RESTORED VERSION 2022 - EUROPEAN PREMIERE
RESTORED CLASSICS - HONG KONG
現代豪俠傳 (Yihn doih houh hahp chyuhn)
Hong Kong, 1993, 97’, Cantonese
Directed by: Johnnie To, Ching Siu-tung
Screenplay: Susanne Chan, from a story by Sandy Shaw
Photography (color): Poon Hang-sang
Art Direction: Bruce Yu
Editing: Ah Jack Production
Music: Cacine Wong
Producers: Johnnie To, Ching Siu-tung
Cast: Michelle Yeoh (Ching, Invisible Woman), Anita Mui (Tung, Wonder Woman), Maggie Cheung (Chat, Thief Catcher), Damian Lau (Commissioner Lau), Anthony Wong (Mr. Kim), Kaneshiro Takeshi (Chung Hon), Lau Ching-wan (Tak), Kwan Shan, (President), Eddy Ko (President’s deputy)
Date of First Release in Territory: September 30th, 1993
Shot back-to-back with Heroic Trio, the sequel Executioners takes an even darker path than its already pretty dark predecessor. Whereas the first movie only used future anxiety as an underlying theme, Executioners goes full-on pessimistic and dystopian about pretty much everything. It was oddly prescient in doing so.
Taking place after a nuclear war renders parts of the planet uninhabitable, Executioners posits a city beset by unrest. Uncontaminated water is monopolized by the Clean Water Corporation, run by the radiation-mutated Mr. Kim (Anthony Wong), and the people believe the government is lying about the water shortage. An errant shooting at a protest sparks a violent riot involving the people and government soldiers. However, the riot was instigated not by either side, but by a third faction looking to sow chaos and grasp power.
Somewhere in all of this is the Heroic Trio, but they have their own issues, including Invisible Woman (Michelle Yeoh) and Thief Catcher (Maggie Cheung) working for opposing sides, while Wonder Woman (Anita Mui) is now a retired full-time mom. Wonder Woman is eventually forced back into action, but not before the President is shot, a military coup is attempted, Thief Catcher takes to the badlands in search of clean water, and Mr. Kim is revealed as a wacky villain who collects the severed heads of his rivals. A shortage of kitchen sinks likely prevented those from also being included in the script.
Heroic Trio was a dark superhero fantasy highlighted by fantastic action and friendship tropes, while Executioners offers overstuffed political drama marked by overwrought pathos. That the film features aspiring authoritarians and corrupt corporations creates a strange parallel to our modern world, where numerous populations resist their governments, and corporations are accused of working against people’s interests. Equating our world to the one in Executioners risks engaging in conspiracy theory – but that’s really what the story is about: a wild conspiracy where regular people are victimized by powerful entities seeking unlimited power. That these concepts arise in both fiction and non-fiction shows how thematically universal they are.
Executioners deviates even further from Heroic Trio by making its good guys not so good. Wonder Woman’s husband (Damian Lau) was previously a righteous cop, but here he’s party to a political assassination attempt. Meanwhile, the President’s right-hand man (Eddy Ko) massacres doctors in the name of national security after they just saved the President’s life. These moments happen without commentary, but the filmmakers clearly know their morals are murky. The heroes are still portrayed as mostly benevolent; the President seeks clean water for his people, and the Heroic Trio team up again out of friendship. But corruption, compromise, complicity? Those things are conspicuously present.
While thematically more complex, Executioners feels less Hong Kong-specific than its predecessor, and story-wise doesn’t really build upon anything that happened before. The post-apocalyptic setting is not anticipated, and the character’s journeys are not foreshadowed. What does return: the wild action, the stylish B-movie sensibilities, and the willingness of the filmmakers to push as many audience buttons as possible. Beloved characters die and love is denied, and yet somewhere in all that darkness a bad guy gets his clock cleaned by a team of strong, resolute women seeking justice. In a world gone so bad (and that sometimes feels strangely similar to our own), isn’t it good that there’s a Heroic Trio willing to fight for what’s right?
see pag. X (The Heroic Trio).
The son of director Cheng Kang, Ching Siu-tung first worked as a cinema stuntman in the 1960s before becoming a martial arts director in the 1970s, first working on films including The 14 Amazons (1972), The Teahouse (1974) and The Sword (1980) as well as TV. He made his debut as director with the wuxia feature Duel to the Death (1983), and went on to direct a wide range of films, including sensational martial arts and fantasy works like the A Chinese Ghost Story series (1987-91) and Swordsman 2 (1992), in addition to serving as producer and action choreographer.
1983 – Duel to the Death
1987 – A Chinese Ghost Story
1990 – A Chinese Ghost Story II
1991 – The Raid
1991 – A Chinese Ghost Story III
1992 – Swordsman 2
1993 – Executioners (co-director)
2000 – Conman in Tokyo
2008 – An Empress and the Warriors
2011 – The Sorcerer and the White Snake