As a little boy, Lee Siu-Sheung (Cantopop star Juno Mak, who also produced) loved giant robot anime shows, especially God Sigma which he would watch every day alongside his beloved dad (Lam Ka-Wah). God Sigma taught Lee to believe in justice and decency, ideals he cherished until the day he saw his father shot dead whilst heroically protecting policemen from gun-toting gangsters. Now living on a rundown, crime-ridden public housing estate with his feisty mother (Pat Ha), Lee works as a humble fast food delivery boy, but by night hones his kung fu skills as an urban vigilante. His only friend is Dai Pang (Wan Chiu), a ditzy, delusional young geek who shares Lee’s love of God Sigma and dreams of forming a real-life Earth Patrol, complete with superhero uniforms, to help save the world.
One day, Lee’s kung fu skills impress a sharp-dressed stranger (Ken Lo) who recruits him into the Matsumoto Group, which Lee thinks is a private security firm but is actually a triad outfit led by ageing crime kingpin Ho Yu (Jimmy Wang Yu) with his trusted right-hand man Shing (Gordon Lam). Attracted to Ho’s daughter Annie (Stephy Tang), Lee ends up saving her from gangland assassins and forms a fast friendship with the bossy but sexy aspiring rock star. Annie proves to be a God Sigma fan too and unexpectedly enthusiastic about helping Dai Pang create a real superhero team.
While the youngsters pursue their innocent dreams, Shing has a very real problem to contend with. His triad brethren ask him to join their rebellion against the tyrannical Ho. Though Shing’s honour drives him to refuse, Ho regards him as a traitor anyway and shoots him in the face. Alive but hideously scarred, Shing extracts his revenge just as Lee and Annie return home. In the ensuing struggle, Shing chops off Lee’s right arm but he and Annie are rescued by a young triad (Gary Chaw) who turns out to be an undercover cop and the son of the policeman his own father died saving. Crippled and with his spirit broken, Lee hits an all-time low until a further tragedy and the inspiration of a certain giant robot spur him to take one last shot at saving the world, or at least his own neighbourhood.
For those not in the know, God Sigma was a real Japanese giant robot anime show and spin-off feature film from 1980, little known in the west but evidently much beloved in Hong Kong, not least because its theme song was performed by the late, great Leslie Cheung. In a move likely to delight nostalgists, the opening credits of Let’s Go! (a title derived from the catchphrase of the anime’s three superheroes, as in the film: two boys and one gutsy girl) recreate the original cartoon, complete with Cheung’s vocals, whilst a CGI facsimile of the titular super-robot cameos in the closing shot. Quite possibly influenced by Kick-Ass (2010), Let’s Go! marks a surprising and frankly welcome change of pace for graphic designer-turned-writer-director Wong Ching-Po whose track record of pretentiously grim gangster thrillers, notably Jiang Hu (2004) and Revenge: A Love Story (2010), won festival accolades but few fans among HK film devotees.
Despite its goofy premise and injections of broad comedy, Let’s Go! sports a suprisingly hard edge and tone not far removed from the aforementioned Jane Goldman-scripted hit and the less warmly-received Super (2010). The plot pulls in all sorts of directions, encompassing gangster drama played deadly straight with uncompromising violence, quirky feel-good comedy involving an array of lovable misfits, and knockabout sci-fi styled action-adventure. It is messy but packs an emotional punch above its weight with an affecting message about childhood ideals providing a reservoir of strength that inspires and builds friendships in adulthood. Contrasting the goofy innocence of its young heroes with the more grey-shaded morality of the triad world, the film manages to empathise with ostensible villain Shing. His disillusionment with the gangster code sparks his gradual transformation into a classic anime villain, complete with super stylized lair and masked minions, subtly mirroring the arc wherein the restoration of Lee’s faith in human decency spurs him to finally become a superhero.
The film cleverly adapts the conventions and motifs of Eighties anime into a slightly more realistic context before the last twenty-five minutes leap into wish-fulfilment fantasy as Annie uses her wealth to rejuvenate Lee and mobilise the neighbourhood into a real Earth Patrol armed with anime-styled bulletproof outfits and super-weapons. Choreographed by Nicky Li, the action is taut and visceral but almost scuppered by some odd editing choices, although the finale is well-staged with striking cinematography by Wong Gam-Shing and Yau Shun-Yip. Nice to see martial arts movie icon Jimmy Wang Yu appearing in such a quirky project along with the redoubtable Pat Ha, so memorable as the ice-cold assassin in the classic On the Run (1989). Also keep a lookout for Chin Siu Ho, star of Mr. Vampire (1985) and The Seventh Curse (1987) in a substantial role.
Not everything works: the late hour plot twist regarding Gary Chaw’s character is poorly handled and it seems unlikely someone as upright as Lee would so readily become a triad stooge. However, the film transcends its flaws with a finale that winningly does not conclude on a note of self-justified vigilante violence but the preservation of life, rejuvenation of community and of course, life lessons from an old cartoon. Anyone familiar with the outrageous soap opera twists common in vintage anime will get a big laugh out of the climactic arrival of one character’s identical twin brother.