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  Heroic Trio, The Mighty Menage-a-trois
Year: 1993
Director: Johnnie To, Ching Siu Tung
Stars: Anita Mui, Maggie Cheung, Michelle Yeoh, Damian Lau, Anthony Wong
Genre: Action, Martial Arts, Science Fiction, FantasyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 4 votes)
Review: Three of Hong Kong’s finest actresses unite in this outrageously entertaining, over the top, superheroine adventure. Anita Mui is Wonder Woman, a masked crime-fighter out busting bad guys when she isn’t playing the dutiful housewife to her clueless cop husband. Hong Kong is plagued by a mysterious force kidnapping male babies, leaving the police baffled and even Wonder Woman struggling to help. The culprit is San the Invisible Woman (Michelle Yeoh), who works for an centuries old, albino, Ming Dynasty eunuch (Damian Lau). He cages babies in his underground lair, plotting to spawn a new emperor and recapture China’s imperial past.

When a cowardly police commissioner learns his newborn son will be next, he turns to Chat the Thief Catcher (Maggie Cheung), a sexy, motorcycle-straddling bounty hunter and superheroine-for-hire. Having herself escaped the eunuch’s subterranean kingdom as a child, Chat dares descend into the netherworld to tangle with his cannibal cat-man henchman (Anthony Wong). She barely escapes with her life, but sets off a chain of revelations that bring San and Wonder Woman together, before the heroic trio battle the all-powerful eunuch.

Chinese superhero movies range from the ridiculous (Invisible Space Streaker (1988)) to the sublime (Super Infra-Man (1975)), and this one is very special indeed. A delirious cocktail of fantastical stunt-work (the motorcycle spinning through the air with riders still aboard is a real showstopper), graphic horror (cannibal kids chow down on human entrails), and campy fun (Wonder Woman’s acrobatic display before an audience of adoring children), this packs a huge amount of action into eighty-six minutes and moves like a speeding bullet. Would that many bloated Hollywood comic book extravaganzas had an ounce of its invention.

Now famous for his gangster dramas, Johnnie To draws from Tim Burton’s Batman movies, wu xia fantasies (the evil eunuch is a dead giveaway), and the classic sixties superheroine film series, The Black Rose (1966). The script tailors each character to the stars contrasting styles: Anita Mui (who sadly succumbed to cancer several years ago) is the gregarious woman-of-the-people, Michelle Yeoh the enigmatic martial arts princess, and Maggie Cheung the firecracker free spirit. Some see the film as an allegory of a divided China, with the three heroines representing Hong Kong, Taiwan and the mainland, although that might be overstating the case. There are touches of cynical social commentary, like the police commissioners willingness to swap his imperilled infant for another innocent baby, alongside amusing touches like the moment the gals fix their makeup before greeting the press.

Each of the ladies look striking in their chic superheroine costumes, with Maggie’s leather jacket and lingerie ensemble the most memorable for obvious reasons. Her gum-chewing, shotgun-twirling, hotpants swaying super-fox gets all the best lines (“Monster, you like methane more than oxygen?! I’ll kill you!!”), while Michelle Yeoh handles the slight, yet poetic romantic subplot with a young scientist very engagingly, and Anita Mui lends Wonder Woman a touch of elegance and quiet authority. As in the outstanding Saviour of the Soul (1991), she ably demonstrates the art of performing high kicks and wire-fu in short, tight dresses whilst preserving her feminine modesty. Producer Ching Siu Tung takes over as director for the action sequences and delivers some of the most memorable of his career: Thief Catcher’s dynamite-assisted ride on a flying barrel, the trio’s all-guns-blazing assault upon the eunuch’s lair, and the final four-way tussle against the newly-zombiefied supervillain, which features a nod to The Terminator (1984).

Fans might want to hang onto their VHS tapes, since the most recent Hong Kong DVD is missing most of the gory bits (including Anthony Wong munching his own severed fingers). A darker, more thematically ambitious sequel followed the next year, Heroic Trio II: Executioners (1994).
Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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