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Heroic Duo
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"That's it, we can never beat the Hong Kong media."

Leon Lai and Ekin Cheng take on the bad guys in Heroic Duo.

Chinese: 雙雄  
Year: 2003
Director: Benny Chan Muk-Sing
Producer: Benny Chan Muk-Sing
Writer: Alan Yuen Kam-Lun, Adrian Kwan Shun-Fai
Action: Stephen Tung Wai, Chris Lee Kin-Sang
Cast: Leon Lai Ming, Ekin Cheng Yee-Kin, Francis Ng Chun-Yu, Karena Lam Ka-Yan, Xu Jinglei, Raymond Wong Ho-Yin, Samuel Pang King-Chi, Anson Leung Chun-Yat, Kenny Wong Tak-Bun, Evergreen Mak Cheung-Ching, Rico Kwok Lik-Hung
The Skinny: Rare action and fun performances makes Heroic Duo an entertaining film, but the ridiculous story and sometimes embarrassing script do their best to ruin things. This is a decent commercial exercise with some fun star turns, but not much else.
by Kozo:

It's about time Benny Chan made another movie. The director of such entertaining action spectacles as Big Bullet, Who Am I? and Gen-X Cops could never be confused with one of those internationally-renowned filmmakers, but his more recent films have been entertaining and better-than-average commercial movies. Story has usually been on the light side, but likable performers, good pacing, and great action have usually made Chan's films better than those of his contemporaries (i.e., Stanley Tong of China Strike Force shame). Heroic Duo, an action-thriller starring Leon Lai and Ekin Cheng, looks to continue Chan's streak, but confidence could be low. Lest we forget, Benny Chan's last film was Gen-Y Cops.

Ekin Cheng is Officer Ken, a hard-assed cop whose rough manners and brusque attitude apparently make him the undisputed king of the police force. When a model officer is caught committing a crime in the station, Ken is assigned to figure out why, except there's no apparent motive, and the perpetrator doesn't even have any memory of his wrongdoings. However, something is nagging at him enough for him to off himself, which leads Ken to the logical (?) next step: Jack Lai, renowned practitioner of "pyschogenesis," a hyponitizing technique based on discovering a person's secret pain, and using that as the key to making them do whatever you want. While the details are fuzzy, apparently Jack's hypnotic powers were an awesome force, which he used years ago to help the cops take down the bad guys. However, Jack is currently serving a 15-year prison term for manslaughter for mysteriously gunning down a man in his own apartment. If Jack is going to help Ken, he needs a minor furlough.

Which is what happens. Ken gets Jack out of jail to help him find the "Mindhunter," a reputed criminal hypnotist. The chase has varied results, but the time Jack spends with Ken gives him ample opportunity to spout pages of psychobabble, as well as act really cool by breaking out of cop custody (via hypnotism, natch) and then show up to make Ken's underlings (Universe pop boys du jour Rico Kwok and Anson Leung) look bad. If attitude were a crime, Jack Lai would have gotten a life sentence, but his rogue ways are apparently not enough for someone to put him under serious lockdown. Ken brings Jack with him to stakeout an auction where two valuable jewels (which double as the "eyes" of an Egyptian pharoah bust) are the supposed targets. However, everything goes wrong: the jewels get stolen, Jack escapes, and Ken is apparently fingered for everything. He goes on the run, the cops (led by the hilariously smarmy Raymond Wong Ho-Yin) go on the offensive, and Ken's long-suffering girlfriend, fellow cop Brenda (Karena Lam), gets all misty over Ken's newfound fugitive status. Meanwhile, real villain Hoi (Francis Ng) cackles in the background.

The hows and whys of Heroic Duo are tied up in some seriously wacky psychobabble that likely has the same scientific basis as flying pigs. Aside from using a person's secret pain to cue some mind control, Jack also preaches a specific form of self-hypnotism that can only be described as "the power of positive thinking." Jack's abilities to escape handcuffs Harry Houdini-like are attributed to a personal mantra where he tells himself that he can do exactly what he wants, when he wants to. Such techniques would likely earn him big bucks on the infomercial circuit, but he's content to dispense them to Ken while the two are being chauffeured around by Ken's team. Besides being necessary exposition, his psychological teachings also turn out to be tools for Ken to discover the true perpetrators of the crime. Though they're initially and seemingly opposed, Ken and Jack will become allies in the fight for justice thanks to amazing pseudo-telepathic abilities created by some quick "you too can hypnotize" sessions in the backseat of a police cruiser. This is how all crimes should be solved: rogue cops using self-hypnotism and psychological prodding to get the bad guys AND save their relationships. If Ekin Cheng suddenly took off and flew to the moon, it would only be slightly more silly.

Knocking Heroic Duo for its wacky ways is easy—in fact, it's probably too easy. Screenwriting has long been a Hong Kong Cinema problem, and the manufactured and patently ridiculous story cooked up by writers Alan Yuen and Adrian Kwan is rife with too-easy connections and unbelievable explanations which can't even qualify as science fiction. It's nice that Hong Kong has managed to deliver the season's second cop action thriller (Wong Jing's surprisingly good Colour of the Truth being the first), but would it have killed them to write a story that wasn't completely out of touch with reality? Thankfully, Benny Chan is there to save (?) the day. Despite the ridiculousness of everything, the film's narrative pushes forward with enough momentum to interest and entertain. Heroic Duo unfolds smartly thanks to good pacing and snappy direction by Chan, and even though the explanations are canned, the storytelling is appreciable enough to work.

The action and actors help too. Long underrated Stephen Tung Wai gives the action and stuntwork quick-hitting energy, and Ekin Cheng manages the brief fight sequences with the requisite physicality. It's probably hard to imagine Cheng as a hardass cop type, but seeing him glower, shout, and throw people into walls manages to be entertaining. However, Leon Lai surpasses (!) Cheng with an amusingly charismatic performance. As Jack, Lai struts around like some ultra-superior cool guy, which isn't far removed from what his character requires. Jack basically can control almost anyone he wants thanks to his wacky hypnotic powers, and Lai gives the character enough casual gravity to make him a decent cinematic hero. Francis Ng is no stranger to bad guys, and is amusingly hate-worthy, and Karena Lam is photogenic and sincere with her emotions. In fact, she might be a little too sincere. Her character comes off as deeply hurt and emotionally wounded, which is probably a little too much for popcorn fluff like this. It's nice that she tried, but she might have tried too much.

Then again, that observation could apply to the film as a whole. The filmmakers seem to have worked overtime to add weight to their film—except the burden seems unnecessary and even damaging. The silly premise might have been more digestible had they given the film more of a sense of humor. As it is, the only humorous bits are some occasionally funny staging and Lai's droll, too-cool performance. Benny Chan moves things along briskly enough that fun can be had, but it almost seems to be in spite of the script. And, any playfullness the filmmakers were leaning towards is eventually cancelled out by the jaw-dropping cheesiness of the film's climax. It would have been nice for a few well-placed kicks or a decent car chase to top things off, but Heroic Duo goes psycho-syrupy in a way that can only be decribed as Spielbergian. Making L-O-V-E the magical antidote to the world's problems—or the solution to the theft of a couple of jewels—is the cinematic equivalent of duct tape. It's a quick, easy fix to a bigger problem, and when you look at the final result, it ain't very pretty. Ultimately, Heroic Duo can be fun along the way, but the end result is not something to get too excited about. (Kozo 2003)

Awards: 23rd Annual Hong Kong Film Awards
• Nomination - Best Director (Benny Chan Muk-Sing)
• Nomination - Best Cinematography (Poon Liu-Ming)
• Nomination - Best Action Design (Stephen Tung Wai)
Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Universe Laser
2-Disc Set
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles

image courtesy of Universe Laser & Video Co., Ltd.

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