Invisible Woman (Not that Invisible Woman) is an impressive martial artist named Ching who has procured a robe that makes her invisible. She uses this scientific miracle to kidnap newborn babies from hospitals for her Evil Master, a eunuch who is planning on using his mystical powers to become the new ruler of China. Invisible Woman is played by the amazing Michelle Yeoh, from Supercop and the upcoming Bond flick, Tomorrow Never Dies. She is also a complete babe (Miss Malaysia 1983).
Thief Catcher, better known as Chat, is a leather-clad mercenary with a predilection for explosives. She's played by Maggie Cheung, who also portrayed Jackie Chan's girlfriend in the Police Story films. She is also a complete babe (Miss Hong Kong 1983).
Finally, we have Wonder Woman. Again, not that Wonder Woman, but one that seems to be modeled on Batman, though Batman has never shown the ability to run across power lines or jump tall buildings in a single bound. Her civilian identity is Tung, wife of a police inspector named Lau. Tung is played by Anita Mui, who is a popular singer in Cantonese, as well as popular actor. Viewers on this side of the Pacific are probably most familiar with her from her roles in Jackie Chan movies, like Rumble in the Bronx and Drunken Master II. She is also a complete babe (Miss Stomp Tokyo 1983).
Heroic Trio is a gonzo superhero epic in the Hong Kong style. And by the Hong Kong style we mostly mean that lots of things get floated around on wires, from our heroes to babies to motorcycles. We like to think that co-director Chin-Sui Tung walked around the various locations, saying "OK, now what here can be suspended from wires?" and then made whatever script changes were necessary to work in that particular floating prop. Our favorite example is Thief Catcher's flight through a window on a steel drum propelled by TNT. (Kids, don't try this at home.)
Thief Catcher, unfazed by
her ride on a steel drum.
Our story begins on a dark (but not stormy) night. In some indeterminate future setting, Hong Kong babies are being kidnapped right and left. Clueless, the police flail about, trying to find the culprit. An invisible visitor (guess who?) informs the police chief that his son is next, and mere minutes of screen time later, we watch the child float out of a nearby window. The child is almost-but-not-quite rescued by Wonder Woman, who approaches the scene by running across some handy telephone wires. She's not content to let her fingers do the walking.
Thief Catcher happens upon the scene shortly thereafter, offering her services to catch the baby-thief for a large sum of money. The police turn down her offer; after all, they've got Wonder Woman on their side. But even Wonder Woman is stumped. What no one else knows is that the police chief has offered Chat the money she wants in order to get his son back, and that Chat has figured out who is behind the kidnappings: the Evil Master to whom she once swore fealty, but has since escaped.
Chat's plan is simple. She kidnaps the next baby herself in an attempt to draw the real kidnapper out. It works, but it also brings Wonder Woman to the scene, and a three-way fight erupts. During the melee, the baby is mortally wounded and Invisible Woman gets away. This is the kind of development you will never see in an American fantasy. There is a whole school of criticism developing here that says that children should never be put in jeopardy in movies, let alone hurt or killed. As a matter of fact, some critics blasted Jackie Chan's Operation Condor for its brief pram-in-traffic scene. Needless to say, this school of thought has yet to reach Hong Kong, where babies in movies are used as the ultimate symbol of innocence, and people who would kill babies are the ultimate evil. Here, the accidental death of the baby drives character development in Chat, who rethinks her mercenary ways and becomes a more selfless person.
In any case, it turns out that all three characters' pasts are intertwined, and seeing as how the title of the movie is Heroic Trio, you just know that by the end of the film Ching will turn away from the dark side of the Force, ahem, the Evil Master we mean, and all three of the babes will team up and kick some eunuch butt. (According to Chinese movies, males who castrate themselves gain access to some pretty amazing powers. The Evil Master is one such eunuch, as we learn from his womanish voice. Too bad the English dubbed version of Heroic Trio used a man's voice for this character.)
She's a wonder, Wonder Woman.
There are a few things that set this scenario apart from most fantasy films you see. The first is the babes, but you read about them at the beginning of the review. They're all huge stars in Hong Kong, so this definitely qualifies as an all-star cast. Not only that, but these characters are given fairly deep character definition. Invisible Woman is not merely a woman torn between good and evil, but she is also in love with a scientist dying from his own creation (the invisible cloak). Wonder Woman hides her identity even from her husband, and Chat must fight her fear of the Evil Master.
One of the supporting actors needs to be mentioned as well. Anthony Wong plays Number Nine, a cannibal child all grown up. Wong is an actor of amazing range, almost unrecognizable from role to role. In Hard Boiled, he was the suave but psychotic gun runner who owns the hospital. In Full Contact, he was the wimpy, ineffectual Sam. In Untold Story he played the insane mass murderer (as opposed to any sane mass murderers you might know). At one point we thought there may be more than one Anthony Wong, just as there are two Hong Kong actors named Tony Leung, but no, all of the above roles were played by the same Anthony Wong. In Heroic Trio he is totally mute, which seems to be a waste of his talents, though his facial expressions whenever his fingers are chopped off are pretty funny. We guess everyone needs to pay the rent, and that's what Wong seems to be doing here.
Add to the mix an unusual amount of violence compared to American films in this genre. This is a film that features murdered infants, cannibal kids, exploding land mines, and (new! from Wham-O!) a swinging guillotine-device on a chain. Somehow, we don't think films like Time Bandits and Willow could have ever featured an assassin who ate his own severed fingers.
Nonetheless, Heroic Trio is a stylish, engaging film with plenty of action for those of you who tune in just for the martial arts. Folks in need of a plot will probably be happy with the complex set of events and large cast of characters, not to mention the emotional conflicts. If you want action, it's there in spades, and it's action like you've never seen before. Guaranteed. And that's just about the highest recommendation we can give to this kind of film.