Cinema Psycho

"You know what? You have a losing personality." – Manhattan

Heroic Duo (DVD)

Posted by CinemaPsycho on April 26, 2005

Directed by Benny Chan/written by Shun Fai Kwan, Alan Yuen/starring Ekin Cheng, Leon Lai/Tartan Asia Extreme

A tough cop teams up with a disgraced psychologist to track down the master hypnotist responsible for a murder.

Not to be confused with The Heroic Trio, this is a 2003 Hong Kong action-thriller from the director of Gen-X Cops and Gen-Y Cops. No Paul Rudd to be found here though. The tag line on the cover reads, “Hard Boiled and Hard Targets!” Besides possibly being a copyright infringement, this seems to subtly infer that if you like John Woo films, you’ll like this too. I guess they needed something to offset the rather generic English title.

Truthfully, if you like HK action flicks, you probably will find a lot to enjoy about Heroic Duo. It doesn’t attempt to reinvent the wheel, but it does throw a few novel elements into the standard “cops, chases, and explosions” formula.

You’ve got your typical emotionally repressed hardass cop (Cheng), who hasn’t gotten over the death of his wife and throws himself completely into his work. Then you’ve got the forced-upon partner, in this case an imprisoned hypnotherapist (Lai), who helps him “open up” and become more sensitive to his current girlfriend. Of course this all happens in the process of chasing a master hypnotist who made another cop destroy police records and commit murder unknowingly. Don’t you hate when that happens?

The hypnotized cop becomes consumed with guilt (there’s a rather disturbing insinuation about something else he might have done under the influence), and the therapist’s wife and kids get kidnapped by the real bad guy. Conveniently enough, the therapist was trained by the criminal mastermind, who’s a big crime boss, so he knows exactly who’s behind it as soon as hypnosis is suspected. How the therapist ended up working for the police after associating with a gangster is left unexplored, unless I missed something completely. I guess things like that just happen in Hong Kong.

I got the feeling that a lot of the plot was lost in translation, because the whole hypnosis thing is just taken for granted – nobody really questions whether or not someone can be hypnotized against their will. It’s a bit reminiscent of that X-Files episode about “The Pusher”, the guy who could just bend people to his will by giving them “suggestions”. There’s some lip service given to the idea that people with truly strong minds cannot be hypnotized, but this seems to vary depending on the needs of the plot. It’s also not really clear exactly why the therapist committed murder, or why the story needed him to be in prison in the first place – he could have just been a police counselor or something who knew hypnosis. It feels a bit needlessly convoluted at times.

Thankfully, Chan keeps the movie fast-paced and compelling enough that you don’t really care about any of this while watching it. Like most HK cop-thriller product, Heroic Duo is slick and professional, if not particularly original. The hypnosis angle provides enough of a twist that it doesn’t feel exactly like every other one of these movies we’ve seen before. And there’s a rather nifty race-against-time element introduced towards the end that helps maintain interest at a point where you might feel like you’ve had your fill of cop-movie conventions. The end result is not exactly mind-blowing stuff like the best of Woo’s HK films, but it’s a watchable and entertaining genre piece that will appeal to fans of this particular type of movie.

The funny thing about movies like Heroic Duo is how they manage to make the hoariest action-thriller clichés seem fresh in spite of the fact that we’ve seen them done about 10 million times already. Given that Hollywood has pretty much given up on making this kind of movie – apparently their screenwriters have completely run out of variations on the buddy-cop genre – it’s actually kind of refreshing to see this stuff done at all, much less done so well. I don’t think it’s just the novelty of seeing it done by a different country and culture either, as we’ve been bombarded by Hong Kong action flicks in our theaters and especially on video for the last dozen years or so. They just seem to have a way of making the formula work, without seeming tired and uninspired. Maybe they’re just damn good at it.

The characters are handled with a remarkable sensitivity that you would rarely find in one of its American counterparts. We’ve all seen these people before many times, but they’re portrayed so vividly that we don’t really mind seeing them again. Cheng and Lai are both charismatic, interesting actors, and they manage to make us care about their characters’ traumas and love lives even when all we want to see is stuff blowing up. Even the nasty villain is given a backstory and a fatal flaw – his Achilles heel is how he’s incapable of falling in love! Dude, you’re a Hong Kong crime boss. You can buy yourself a girlfriend. Or three. Or seventeen.

All in all, Heroic Duo is not a film that will redefine the action genre, but it’s a fun and enjoyable piece of work that’s worth a Saturday-night rental. Just try not to think about it too much.

Thanks to Tartan Asia Extreme for the screener copy.

*** 4/26/05

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