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  • Jeff Beck

The Heroic Trio/Executioners: Early Michelle Yeoh Works Get the Criterion Upgrade (Criterion 4K/Blu-ray)


The Films:


Long before Michelle Yeoh won an Oscar for her incredible performance in "Everything Everywhere All at Once," and even before she was that well-known around the globe, she was a prolific action star, churning out a multitude of films of the genre throughout the '80s and '90s. This week, Criterion is honoring two of these early works, "The Heroic Trio" and its sequel "Executioners," in which Yeoh and her co-stars (Anita Mui and Maggie Cheung) play unusual superheroes of sorts trying to stop some rather bizarre, sinister plots. This release marks their North American debut on both 4K & Blu-ray, making it the perfect time to delve into them and see how this beloved star started making her mark on the industry over 30 years ago.


"The Heroic Trio" involves the mysterious kidnapping of several babies, a case that Inspector Lau (Damian Lau) and his team are trying to break. Meanwhile, we learn that his wife Tung (Anita Mui) is secretly a superhero known as "Wonder Woman" who is trying to work the case as well. Also in the mix is a bounty hunter known as Chat (Maggie Cheung), who typically only helps if there's money involved. Finally, there's Ching (Michelle Yeoh), who's the assistant to the Grandmaster (Shi-Kwan Yen), the villain behind the kidnapping plot. Could these three ever possibly join forces and foil the Grandmaster's evil plan?


"Executioners" takes place some time after a nuclear bomb has contaminated the water supply, leading the government on a desperate search for a clean source. Tung has since settled down to be a mother, giving up her superhero persona in the process. Chat is still her same old bounty hunter self, trying to make a bit of money in this awful situation the people find themselves in. Meanwhile, Ching has become an honest superhero who assists the police. When the demented Mr. Kim (Anthony Wong ) attempts to enact an evil scheme to make himself president, it's once again up to our trio of heroes to save the day.


As mentioned at the top of the review, these are a pair of rather bizarre films, and while that's not always necessarily a bad thing, in this instance, it leads to a pair of films that are also substantially flawed. There's nothing particularly wrong with the characters. Each of the leading ladies has a semi-interesting backstory and intriguing traits that make them engaging to watch. However, when it comes to the writing & plots, things start to get extremely shaky.


Starting with "The Heroic Trio," its nonsensical plot involves the kidnapping of babies so that the Grandmaster can choose one to be Emperor (with the rest becoming monsters). Where things are really supposed to go from there is anyone's guess, I suppose. Integrated into this story is a subplot involving a professor who has invented an invisibility cloak that has been killing him with radiation. The professor has developed a special relationship with Ching, who has also been using the cloak on her mission for the Grandmaster. It's a remarkably unnecessary section that acts more as an overly-elaborate explanation of the cloak, one in which they were clearly trying to add more emotional depth to the film, but instead ended up feeling more random & superfluous than moving.


As for "Executioners," the plot is even more of a mess. The convoluted storyline involves a poisoned water supply, the president & his double, a corrupted military, and the evil head of a water company that wants to be the leader of the country (and also has a fascination with heads in boxes). "The Heroic Trio" had felt like the writer had picked random elements out of a hat and made it a challenge to merge them into one film, and while they didn't fit together very well, at least most of those elements were mildly interesting. "Executioners" doesn't even have that, presenting a garbled storyline of elements that contain nothing engaging for the viewer.


Now it's fair to say that the plot is probably not the main reason most people would watch these films. They go to see what should be a multitude of exciting martial arts sequences strung together with a decent-enough storyline. However, even when it comes to the films' fights & action scenes, it's a little disappointing, for they appear to be edited by someone who had a very short attention span. That is to say, they are so chopped up and mangled into separate shots that the momentum & excitement that they are attempting to build is simply lost. If you want to show a fight, show the fight. Don't show a million little pieces of a fight. That's a remarkably easy way to take the audience right out of the action.


The films are indeed heavily flawed, but they're not without their more positive elements. The performances from the trio of ladies are amusing & well-suited to their eccentric characters, and even though the plotlines are pretty far out-there, they still provide a little amusement for all of the cheesiness they present (even though you'll likely be scratching your head as to what the heck is actually going on). That said, they both could've used a lot of work on the story & action. It's still pretty fascinating to see more early work from the great Michelle Yeoh that I'd never seen before, but ultimately I would think that there were probably better examples than these.


Video/Audio:


This edition of "The Heroic Trio/Executioners" comes with the films on one 4K (UHD) disc and separate Blu-rays (1080p), with the films being presented in outstanding 1.78:1 transfers. Much of these films are remarkably dark, especially the sequel, but in typical Criterion fashion, the new 4K restorations make every frame look wonderfully sharp. Likewise, the uncompressed monaural soundtracks are magnificent, giving you all of the dialogue, sound effects, and music in excellent quality. Overall, the films simply look & sound fantastic for their high definition Criterion debut.


Special Features:


The Heroic Trio


Superhero Sisterhood (18 Minutes): Film critic Samm Deighan, co-host of the podcast "Twitch of the Deathnerve," discusses the films.


Executioners


No Ordinary Actor (7 Minutes): An interview with actor Anthony Wong ("Kau" and "Mr. Kim") in which he discusses the films and working in the Hong Kong film industry.


Conclusion:


While "The Heroic Trio" and "Executioners" make for fascinating examples of early work from the great Michelle Yeoh, and do provide some slight amusement from their peculiarity, the films are ultimately heavily flawed due to their nonsensical, garbled storylines and choppy action sequences. They're not without their positive qualities, including the lead trio of well-suited performances, but sadly they're not nearly enough to overcome their lacking vital elements.


Score: 2.5/5


Available on Criterion 4K/Blu-ray starting tomorrow.


Follow me on Twitter @BeckFilmCritic.



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