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Hidden Heroes


(left) Human Charlene Choi with Ronald Cheng, and (right) robot Charlene Choi in Hidden Heroes.

Chinese: 追擊8月15
Year: 2004
Director: Joe Ma Wai-Ho, Soi Cheang Pou-Soi
Writer: Joe Ma Wai-Ho, Sunny Chan
Cast: Ronald Cheng Chung-Kei, Charlene Choi Cheuk-Yin, Raymond Wong Ho-Yin, Qin Hailu, Asuka Higuchi, Tats Lau Yi-Tat, Bonnie Wong Man-Wai, Yuen Wah, Li Ting-Fung, Hui Siu-Hung, Hiro Hayama, Tony Ho Wah-Chiu, Matthew Chow Hoi-Kwong
The Skinny: This uneven comedy is overstuffed to the point of distraction, and as a result is only sometimes funny. Sadly, when it's not funny it can be annoying or just downright bad. Apparently, Joe Ma and Soi Cheang are better directors apart than together. Fans of the stars might go home happy, but they usually do.
by Kozo:

Directors Joe Ma and Soi Cheang rip-off the Terminator films for Hidden Heroes, a wildly uneven action comedy that features a few good ideas squeezed in among plenty of bad ones. The good ideas: another comic performance from rising comedian Ronald Cheng; the casting of Charlene Choi as both a dour triad chick and annoyingly happy androids from the future; and screen appearances by Qin Hailu and Yuen Wah. The bad ideas: practically everything else, from a convoluted storyline to a series of unfunny antics that one would normally expect from a guy named Wong Jing. As with a lot of middling Hong Kong fare, ardent fans of the two main stars probably won't complain much. However, fans of actual good movies will probably be less forgiving.

Cheng is Yohji Ho, a policeman who acts annoying despite the fact that he has no real reason for doing so. On a routine stakeout, Yohji meets a pretty young schoolgirl (Charlene Choi) who wants to get it on with him. However, this girl is really an android from the future (shades of The Terminator), who wishes to protect Yohji until a specific moment in time...whereupon she'll kill him because that specific time is when he needs to die. You see, Yohji is the brother of the "Father of Chips", who will create a series of powerful androids in the future all cast in the likeness of his true love, a girl named Mei Ling. According to this future lore, Yohji's brother was inspired by the death of his own brother, meaning in a few short days (August 15th, to be precise), Yohji will have to die to insure that the future happens. Cue lots of wacky comedic overacting by Ronald Cheng, which is supposed to represent his character worrying.

Yohji has bigger problems: he's wanted for the murder of some policemen, and Madam Cheung (Qin Hailu) and Officer Cheng (Raymond Wong) are in hot pursuit. To avoid the cops, Yohji decides to get out of town. But he'll need a fake passport, which leads him to a surprising person: Mei Ling (Charlene Choi), a dour street girl whose humorless ways are in direct contrast to the army of androids coming after Yohji. Unlike the seemingly sad Mei Ling, the androids are all spunky and happy, and sport toothy plastic smiles not unlike the covers of your favorite Twins albums. Realizing that this Mei Ling is the same one who will supposedly fall in love with his brother, he concocts a plan to off her before she ever meets his brother. Except Yohji doesn't have a brother, which should be the solution to his problems.

But it isn't. In a movie-like twist, it's revealed that Yohji does have a brother. His mother (Bonnie Wong) recently married a crackpot inventor (Yuen Wah, making a welcome return to the screen), and years ago they fathered a young kid (Li Ting-Fung of Three: Going Home) who's now a genius. Clearly, this will be the "Father of Chips." Yohji has to stop all of this from happening, but what about being wanted for murder? Who's the real culprit? And what about the fact that he fools Mei Ling into following him by pretending to be in love with her? Yohji really has another girlfriend, a sexy Japanese dancer (Asuka Higuchi). How will she react? And will his little brother go for the older Mei Ling? Will Mei Ling be able to fall for a nerdy little kid who hasn't even hit puberty? And what's with Raymond Wong aping Tony Leung Chiu-Wai's look from 2046? And can anyone besides the actual screenwriters make sense of this plot? Because if they can, they deserve a very large financial reward.

The biggest problem with Hidden Heroes is this: there is simply too much going on. In addition to the cheapo sci-fi plot, you have your loaded romance between Ronald Cheng and Charlene Choi, a whodunit subplot about who killed the cops and framed Yohji, and plenty of interminable family comedy. The filmmakers must also make room for lots of screwy Ronald Cheng shenanigans, which can be funny, but can also seem way out of place.

There's almost no consistency to the characters, who are generally A) wacky, B) straight-laced, C) brain dead, or D) some combination of the above. Yohji is totally unfathomable; he's a cop who's trying to clear his name, but he still has time to act so wacky as to be practically insane. Cheng gives him some comic charisma, and this is technically an action comedy, but the level of his antics don't jibe with the rest of the film. Joe Ma and Soi Cheang don't create a workable tone for this mixed-up genre cocktail, and the effect is ultimately alienating.

But here comes the saving grace AND the nail in the coffin of Hidden Heroes: Charlene Choi in dual roles! As the always-smiling androids, Choi is a caricature of her own Twins persona, and gamely performs the brain-dead robot act to an annoying extreme. As the tough-talking Mei Ling, she fares much better, and actually seems to channel some of that "acting talent" that she was branded with back in the days of Funeral March. The problem: neither of her dual roles is really all that interesting, and though Choi cuts a sympathetic figure as Mei Ling, she really does nothing new.

This shouldn't be a deterrent for the legions of Twins fans who inhale everything they touch, because Choi does the "Charlene Choi thing" to perfection for the film's overlong 110-minute running length. But the "Charlene Choi thing" has also earned her the label of "insufferable", which is something that Hidden Heroes will likely not change. Had she been only Mei Ling and not the androids, Choi could have gotten away with a less-trying performance, but her appearance as the happy robots of death reaffirms everything her naysayers say. That is: she's annoying and insufferable, and these robots certainly are.

Even discussing the merits or Cheng and Choi is not likely going to change the ultimate truth: Hidden Heroes is not much of a movie. It's simply too overstuffed and the hit-or-miss comedy misses more times than it really should. Everybody likes a brain-dead good time, but Hidden Heroes is neither brain-dead nor good. The plot requires too much actual thinking, which is an odd thing to say, but is appropriate nonetheless. As usual, fans of the stars might find something to like, which is yet another screen appearance by their favorite stars. If that's your boat, then get happy.

Ultimately, this is trash for the pop culture trash heap, though Hidden Heroes may end up as a kitsch curiosity someday, especially if Ronald Cheng one day becomes Stephen Chow, or Charlene Choi one day becomes Maggie Cheung. If may seem blasphemous to even mention Charlene Choi and Maggie Cheung in the same sentence, but once upon a time, Maggie Cheung was as chipmunk-cheeked and annoyingly girlish as Choi is now. It's not impossible that she could go on to something greater...if she's not permanently typecast by then. If that day ever occurs, we might look back at Hidden Heroes and say, "Wow, who would have thought?" Right now, however, the safest thing to do is not to look at all. (Kozo 2004)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Mei Ah Entertainment
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
Deleted Scenes, "Making of" featurette, Trailer

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