The Heroic Trio (1992)


Directed by Ching Siu-Tung and Johnny To
Written by Susanne Chan and Sandy Shaw

This charmingly demented Hong Kong action fantasy features three superheroines— sexy-tough Maggie Cheung as Thief Catcher, ultra-feminine Anita Mui as Wonder Woman, and tortured soul Michelle Yeoh as Invisible Girl— who must rescue a bunch of kidnapped babies from an albino demon eunuch and his psycho henchman with a flying guillotine hat (the ever-reliable Anthony Wong). Said albino demon eunuch intends to turn the babies into cannibals as part of his master plan to crown one of them king of China. Meanwhile, he keeps them in cages hung from trees in a field full of paper lanterns in his demonic underworld, or possibly in another dimension.

Do they put something in the drinking fountains at Hong Kong film studios, or what?

Given the cultural differences in filmic conventions and copyright laws, here are a few things you should be aware of before watching The Heroic Trio:

1. Wonder Woman has nothing to do with the comic book heroine; Anita Mui plays a sweet young mother who loves babies and moonlights as a masked superheroine. Invisible Girl has nothing to do with the one in Fantastic Four; Michelle Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon Yeoh plays a woman with a dark past who steals her scientist boyfriend's invisibility formula. Incredibly, Thief Catcher's alias doesn't seem to be ripped off from an American comic book.

2. The convention in American movies is that when a character spits or coughs up blood, they are dying, generally within the next three minutes, but certainly by the end of the movie. In Hong Kong films, it means that they've been hit really hard, but are not necessarily dying, or even seriously injured.

3. There are some extremely sentimental moments involving babies, in the unabashedly emotional Hong Kong movie style. There are also some violent moments involving babies and young kids that no American filmmaker could ever get away with. Be warned.

4. Though this is a superhero movie in the comic book vein, do not expect the realistic detailing of Sam Raimi's Spiderman, the somber subtext of Bryan Singer's X-Men, or the philosophical freight of The Matrix. Think more of really bizarre early comics in which characters had names like Colossal Boy and Element Lad; in which Superboy had a caped flying dog named Krypto, a caped flying cat named Whizzy, and a caped flying monkey named Beppo; and in which Supergirl's caped flying horse Comet could turn into a handsome man with whom she could flirt. (Paging Dr. Freud…)

You are now prepared to see The Heroic Trio, a sublimely off-the-wall film in which spectacular stunts follow sequences of incomprehensible weirdness capped by a blatant rip-off from the end of The Terminator. The film mingles modern legends of superheroes and secret formulas with older ones of evil eunuchs and demonic underworlds, and does so with panache, and much female fighting and bonding.

The plot makes sense only sporadically. I can in no way call the movie deep and the fight sequences, while impressive by American standards, are nothing special by Hong Kong's standards. But when you can watch Maggie Cheung as a whistling bounty hunter in a bustier firing big guns from her flying motorcycle, who cares?


[Rachel Manija Brown]

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