5 January 2003 | Bogey Man
A lesser known, but not less effective, little Hong Kong thriller
Derek Yee Tung-Sing directed and co-wrote with Keith Lee Baak Ling (the man behind the infamous HK horror nightmare Centipede Horror from 1982) this film, People's Hero (1987), starring Ti Lung who had just returned to making films with John Woo's influential gangster classic A Better Tomorrow in 1986, a film that also made a star out of Chow Yun-Fat. Ti Lung is in People's Hero as calm and restrained as can be expected and the film is definitely among the more interesting HK films of the late eighties.
Ti Lung is a seemingly ordinary man who one fateful day goes to visit a bank in Hong Kong. Also two suspicious looking younger fellows (young Tony Leung Chiu-Wai and Ronald Wong Ban) arrive there, and it is not so long before we get to know the two are going to rob the place with a pistol as their weapon. Soon, an unexpected thing happens, and their plan goes as wrong as ever possible and soon they learn they're trapped inside the bank while police is surrounding the place outside. The police include another Tony Leung of Hong Kong cinema, Tony Leung Ka-Fai, and people should not mix these two together! Also something is revealed about Ti Lung's character and who he after all is.
People's Hero is a very noteworthy film as it lacks all the usual "slapstick humor" and irritating comical elements often found in Hong Kong films no matter what genre we're talking about. People's Hero is a serious piece of work and gets even more serious, almost shocking to be more precise, at the end. The film strikes again against the authorities and police and it all were taken as far as possible in the forthcoming Category III and "true life murder case" boom that began with the success and impact of Danny Lee's and Billy Tang's creepy and menacing Dr. Lamb in 1992. More bad and rotten policemen became next year, 1993, in Herman Yau's over-the-top brutal and harrowing The Untold Story in which the police gets even more sadistic and evil than the killer (Anthony Wong in his award winning performance) himself. In People's Hero, the police is not depicted as thoroughly bad as Tony Leung Ka-Fai's character is not bad and not willing to use violence and kill so no one should blame the film about just judging the police.
The ending is among the most violent I've seen for some time as it is even uglier than the finale in the first of the so called heroic bloodshed films, Johnny Mak's classical Long Arm of the Law from 1984. That film has a very memorable and violent end scene in which the mainlanders get to know the habits of the local police in the most inhuman way while they're visiting Hong Kong in order to make some quick money there. The ending in People's Hero is equally bad but it comes much faster and thus is more shocking and unexpected. A human being simply could not be depicted any more brute and wicked than in here, and that of course makes the viewer quite breathless when the end credits finally start to roll. The instinct and willing to kill another human being, dominate and get excited, lies inside human nature and it just must be kept away and inactive, and films like People's Hero are there to make it clear even for the most passive viewer and audience.
The film has pretty well written characters and only occasional irritating bits of unnecessary screaming and crying can be found in the film. If they were left out, the film would be even more powerful and noteworthy. Also some of the motives of the characters are little unclear, for instance would Ti Lung's character have killed some of the hostages if the phone hadn't rung in time? I guess not, but why couldn't the writers make it more clear inside the film?
Lowell Lo's music is again the film's strongest points and during the above mentioned finale it gets almost as powerful and chilling (with some stylish and dramatic slow motion photography) as in Ringo Lam's harrowing and ultra violent School on Fire (1988), a film that hits the viewer straight to the skull and hammers the message there. Lo's music can also be heard in Hong Kong films like John Woo's The Killer (1989) and Clarence Fok's 1992 trash classic Naked Killer among many other more or less classical Hong Kong films. His soundtrack in these films is again a strong proof of the abilities and power of soundtrack and music in cinema and his name on the credits of a Hong Kong film is for me a reason enough to watch the film.
People's Hero is a very recommended and noteworthy film that is quite unknown and only pretty rarely distributed, I think. It has been released on tape at least in USA and UK so if a Hong Kong cinema enthusiast finds a copy, I'd recommend to get it as the film is a good piece of the industry and the ending alone gives a strong punch to the senses and shows what are the abilities of these talented Eastern film makers. 8/10