Tragic Hero


"Alex Mann is probably the best Triad villain I've ever seen in a film. His transformation from lovable if mislead protagonist to downrotten, despicable and detestable antagonist rivals the transformation of Anakin Skywalker to Darth Vader seen in the Star Wars saga."

- Joseph Kuby

Tragic Hero (1987)

Director: Taylor Wong Tai-Loi

Producer: Johnny Mak Tong-Hung

Cast: Andy Lau Tak-Wah, Chow Yun Fat, Alex Man Chi-Leung, Danny Lee Sau-Yin, Carina Lau Ka-Ling, O Chun Hung, Pauline Wong (Siu Fung), Peter Yang Kwan, Elvis Tsui Kam-Kong, Shing Fui On, Ng Hong Ling, Wong Chi Keung, Angela Yu Chien, Lam Chung, Fan Mei Sheng

Running Time: 97 min.

Plot: Kok and Yung are assistants of Chai, a leading man in the underworld. However, a misconception broke out which destroyed the relation amongst the three of them. Now Chai faces betrayal by his friends...

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JOSEPH KUBY'S REVIEW: Succeedingly Surprising!

This is the sequel to Rich and Famous, even though it apparently was filmed simultaneously; it was released first because of Chow Yun Fat's box office power (Chow has more screen time here). It was also released first because it was seen as the most commercial out of the two due to the action content. The gambit/gamble paid off allowing the films to make money to score hits if not ones as big as A Better Tomorrow.

Going by the original trailer to Rich and Famous, I suspect they're both cut so I suppose any further criticisms about missing development, of plot or character, would be moot.

This film really caught me off guard as people, you don't expect to die, die.....and unexpectedly too (i.e. when and how they did). Also, it really is touching as the drama is affectionate and more sincere than its predecessor, Rich and Famous. This could be because the emphasis is on people wanting to mature and move away from their past lifestyles. The poignancy is really moving and heartfelt, which is reflected by (or even because of) the soundtrack.

The music seems to have been inspired if not lifted from Once Upon A Time In America. There's sections of this score that really transcends the usual keyboard/plagiaristic standard of Hong Kong movies and it's this quality which makes it comparable to international movies, it helps to give the film a timeless feel and more than makes up for any emotional resonance lacking in the previous installment.

Considering the comparisons to Once Upon A Time In America, I'm surprised the filmmakers never called it Once Upon A Time In China (a title more appropriate for this film than Tsui Hark's Kung Fu epic centered around Chinese folk hero Wong Fei Hung).

What I've always liked about this film was the way it foreshadows the relationships in future (and greater) gunplay classics of Hong Kong cinema. We have a similar dynamic in this film between Chow Yun Fat and Danny Lee which foreshadows John Woo's The Killer and one between Chow & Andy which foreshadows the great pairing of the two in God Of Gamblers. Good omens in a slightly less-than-stellar film such as this always makes for an intriguing and interesting experience.

The finale is very exciting if not done in the same excessive and surreally captivating manner as the final mansion shootout in A Better Tomorrow 2...although there's rocket launchers. Any finale which manages to top the sheer actionated (action-oriented) excess of Scarface's finale is still worth watching.

Watching this movie is proof as to why John agreed to make A Better Tomorrow 2. When he made the first film, he was really making a moralistic movie set within the context of contemporary society (i.e. a modern moral fable - like how George Lucas intended Star Wars to be a space-set moral fable) but the vivid aesthetics of the first film meant that Woo's message was drowned under levels of hipness and violence (at least in the eyes of the audience if not for what the film actually is). This meant he got criticized for glorifying the Triads (when he was really glorifying the human spirit) and for glamourizing violence (when he was conversely trying to show why we should stop it).

So, with A Better Tomorrow 2 he wanted to make a film that would be so big on guns and pyrotechnics that no-one would dare to follow up, hoping this would lead to people concentrating on things like character development that would in turn lead to better moral development in contemporary Hong Kong.

Unfortunately, it's films like Tragic Hero that did the opposite. Tragic Hero and others had emphasized more on the cool violence with superficial nods to essential filmic qualities (with the odd exceptions) which only served to heighten the popularity of these films (particularly in overseas markets) that lead to martial arts moviemakers hating Woo for killing off the popularity of the martial arts movie (save for the films made by Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung).

Of course, the hi-octane criticism Woo was facing from all borders of the modicum-globe of Hong Kong was equal to the hi-octane action in his movies (Hard Boiled didn't exactly curtail critics accusing Woo of moral pretentions and exploitative material), which ended in his film career in Hong Kong vapourizing (save for a production credit of Chow's Peace Hotel) and his move to Hollywood in itself, a beginning of the end.

Back to Tragic Hero, the finale surely is the inspiration for Woo's A Better Tomorrow sequel as lots of henchmen get knocked down (though with not the same level of body-count, blood and dark humour) and there's lot of weaponry (especially of the war movie caliber). It's a shame it's not as long as Woo's high-powered finale. Just the sheer star-power is exciting alone - Chow Yun Fat and Andy Lau teaming up to bring down the mob!

Alex Mann is probably the best Triad villain I've ever seen in a film. His transformation from lovable if mislead protagonist to downrotten, despicable and detestable antagonist rivals the transformation of Anakin Skywalker to Darth Vader seen in the Star Wars saga. The only real problem with this film is it's portrayal of violence e.g. how people survive multiple gunshot wounds. Like its predecessor Rich & Famous, there is another assassination sequence which is even more over the top than anything remotely unreal in the previous outing.

Also, when a group of people are caught in an internal (indoors) explosion their 'corpses' are depicted as slightly dusty (including the face) without any real burns, scars or even blood which really ruins the credibility when later on in the film someone says that their bodies were burned beyond identification.

However, this is better than the first film and the production values of this film (and the first one) feel like what Tsui Hark would have made if he hadn't used the box office receipts of A Better Tomorrow to film A Better Tomorrow 2 - they're that lavish and polished!