Johnnie To’s The Heroic Trio breaks every rule I thought applied to film. From the opening credits it warns me not to take it seriously, with the surprisingly catchy theme song taking me on a trip backwards through time to the 1980’s-ish land that apparently was 1990’s Hong Kong. The introductory scenes quickly establish that there are no rules here, no need to get bogged down by gravity or logic. No reason a man can’t jump out of a second story window and use a vine as a lasso to thwart a car thief; and no reason that same man can’t be both an ace police detective AND be unaware that his wife is a mask-wearing vigilante.
Things escalate quickly from that crazy opening. Nothing seems off limits and anything seems possible, from visually absurd fight scenes to can-they-even-do-that plot points featuring babies in mortal danger. The Heroic Trio is so over the top in every possible way that I can’t help but admire it, even when its cheesiness made me wince (which was a fairly regular occurrence).
The fight scenes are plentiful and, at their core, highly repetitive (twirl, punch, leap, kick, roll, throw weapon, repeat). Still, director To changes things up in the fights’ staging to keep me guessing and keep my attention. A train station fight featuring a runaway freight train? Check. A wire-walk across an entire city block while throwing blades at an invisible foe? Check. A machine gun-toting biker holing off four, bullet-deflecting no less, goons while twirling like a dancer? Check. And all those fights seem conventional in comparison to the final battle, which takes things to an almost Evil-Dead-level of madness, as the big bad ghoul takes control of his former henchwoman in the most literal way possible.
From start to finish, The Heroic Trio is unabashedly cheesy, a classic midnight madness beat ‘em up if ever there was one. Nothing more and nothing less; and that’s okay because that’s clearly all it ever wanted to be.
Thursday, November 23, 6:30 PM, TIFF Bell Lightbox
This film is part of TIFF Cinematheque’s Johnnie To: Expect the Unexpected series running from October 26th to December 28th