Combustible Celluloid Review - The Heroic Trio (1993), Sandy Shaw, Susanne Chan, Johnnie To, Ching Siu Tung, Maggie Cheung, Michelle Yeoh, Anita Mui, Damian Lau, Anthony Wong Chau-sang, James Pak, Paul Chun, Yen Shi-Kwan
Combustible Celluloid
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With: Maggie Cheung, Michelle Yeoh, Anita Mui, Damian Lau, Anthony Wong Chau-sang, James Pak, Paul Chun, Yen Shi-Kwan
Written by: Sandy Shaw, Susanne Chan
Directed by: Johnnie To, Ching Siu Tung
MPAA Rating: R for violence
Language: Cantonese with English subtitles
Running Time: 88
Date: 02/11/1993

The Heroic Trio (1993)

4 Stars (out of 4)


By Jeffrey M. Anderson

I first saw the great female-led martial arts movie The Heroic Trio on video back in the 1990s during a period of binge-watching every Hong Kong film I could get my hands on, and I loved it. To this day it's one of my favorites, thanks to how utterly bonkers it is, and yet extremely cool.

Maggie Cheung (Days of Being Wild) is Chat, or "Thief Catcher," a foul-mouthed, bad-tempered bounty hunter. Michelle Yeoh (Supercop) is Ching, or "The Invisible Woman," a heartbroken woman with a dark secret. And Anita Mui (Drunken Master II) is Tung, or "Wonder Woman," who, in her secret identity, is married to a police inspector (Damian Lau).

The plot concerns an Evil Master (Yen Shi-Kwan) who collects kidnapped babies, looking for the next emperor of Hong Kong. There's an evil drone, called "Number 9," who has a flying guillotine on a chain. Invisible Woman still reluctantly works for the evil demon (she's only a Number 3), and she's the one actually stealing the babies.

The invisible robe she wears is toxic and it kills the scientist (James Pak) who invented it, and whom Invisible Woman is in love with. She and her new partners turn on the Evil Master and fight him first in the underground netherworld, then on the surface, where it burns and turns into a Terminator-like skeleton.

That's only the basic plot outline. There's so much more to this clever, imaginative movie, which, it's possible, might have been an irreverent commentary on the impending 1997 handover of Hong Kong back to China.

It's still great to see female action stars at work, a rarity back in 1993. These performers are all highly talented, beautiful and skilled, and they have a great chemistry, as if they loved working together. Better still, it's all taken at face value. No one in this film ever questions whether women can be this powerful.

By some accounts Johnnie To (Election, Drug War) is the movie's sole credited director, and by others, it was co-directed by Ching Siu Tung (A Chinese Ghost Story, Swordsman II), who is credited as producer and fight choreographer. To normally makes hard-boiled crime stories and Ching is better known for supernatural, spectral stunts and an ethereal, otherworldly look, like we see here, so I'd bet it was both of them working together.

I last saw the film on the 1997 Tai Seng DVD, which was markedly better than the VHS tape I first saw it on, with a widescreen transfer and improved subtitles. So you can imagine how much better the Criterion Collection's 2014 4K/Blu-ray double-feature release looks and sounds. It's gorgeous. It includes the sequel Executioners; both films are packaged on one 4K disc, and each film gets its own Blu-ray disc.

I had never seen Executioners until now, though I can't say I liked it nearly as much. The three women return, but spend most of the film separate from one another, and in a weird, post-apocalyptic world to boot. (Everyone is on the hunt for clean water.) Wonder Woman isn't even allowed to suit up until the last third, since she's a new mother and made a promise to her husband.

In any case, both films look amazing, and both are offered in their original monaural audio tracks, new remastered DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 tracks, or English-dubbed tracks. I chose the monaural tracks (skip the dubs altogether). Bonuses are rather skimpy, however, including an 18-minute interview with critic Samm Deighan, and an 8-minute interview with actor Anthony Wong, as well as trailers for both films. The liner notes booklet unfolds into a beautiful mini-poster on one side, and contains an essay by writer Beatrice Loayza on the other. Recommended.

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