Tartan Video // 2003 // 100 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Joel Pearce (Retired) // May 12th, 2005
Hard boiled and hard targets!
Full of action and short on logic, Heroic Duo represents everything that we've come to expect from Hong Kong's over saturated action market. The premise is preposterous and everything, the kitchen and bathroom sink included, has been thrown in to keep the audience entertained. To an extent, it does work. It's a consistently diverting way to spend a couple hours, at least until you actually think about it afterwards.
Well, here goes...An evil hypnotist only known as Mindhunter (Francis Ng, The Mission) forces a police officer to break into a station safe for some nefarious yet unrevealed purpose. Ken (Ekin Cheng, Vampire Effect), a particularly driven detective, is put on the case and immediately sees that there's more to this case than meets the eye. He enlists the help of imprisoned hypnotist Jack Lai (Leon Lai, Fallen Angels), who used to be the student of the evil mastermind (of course). Then Ken's girlfriend Brenda (Kar Yan Lam, Koma) gets involved in the case, and the plot quickly devolves into a mess of car chases, shootouts, and hypnosis battles.
Well, I have to admit that I've never seen an action movie that centers around hypnosis. Of course, the hypnosis in Heroic Duo has little in common with what I've seen in other films. The men in this film are able to hypnotize each other during a casual conversation, a police investigation, or a raging shootout. With the right combination of words, the hypnotist breaks into the mind of his victim, revealing a weakness in the person's psyche and breaking down any defenses. Since this cannot be done to the strong-willed, it's more like the Jedi mind control in Star Wars than anything else.
Of course, having people powerful enough to control each other with a few short words could make for some pretty cool situations. It would be reasonable to expect raging battles of the mind, and physical battles fought by brainwashed minions. There are a few plot twists, but only for the people who haven't been paying attention.
Alas, director Benny Chan (Gen-X Cops) wasn't feeling creative this time around. Instead, he turned to the Big Book of Action Scenes© and pulled out all of his old favorites. There are chase sequences on foot over rooftops and car chases with machine guns. There are shootouts between Mindhunter's men and the police. Once Ken gets on the wrong side of the police, he is trapped between those two groups, forced to withstand wave after wave of police officers that he has to escape without hurting. At least all of the action scenes are well-designed and produced, and their generic nature doesn't really stand out in the middle of the scenes. None of them are truly masterful, though, and they lack the timing and creativity of John Woo's superior cop movies.
The performances, like the action, deliver exactly what is expected. Ekin Cheng is a tough, stoic cop, used more for his ability to carry an action scene than for his ability to mold a believable character. Leon Lai is better as the soft-spoken psychologist who has both great power and the self-control to use it ethically. Francis Ng is always a good villain, but it feels as though he is covering familiar ground. For a super-master hypnotist, he sure is quick to pull out his gun.
Considering the quality of the film, Tartan Asia has done a fine job in delivering it on our favorite digital format. The video transfer isn't as good as most of their releases, with an ugly white line across the top of the anamorphic image and a general lack of sharpness and saturation throughout. There aren't any print flaws or compression errors, but it's not the strongest image I have seen from the Tartan Asia Extreme label. The sound is stronger, with a rich DTS track that fills the room, especially with the pulse pounding (if bland) music track. It really kicks into action for the shootouts, and features strong dialogue. The Dolby 5.1 track lacks this punch, but is a solid alternative.
There are a few extras on the disc. The first is an interview with Benny Chan, which is amusing. He focuses on the morals of the film, but I'm not sure that "we all have difficult things to suffer through" is anything new for the cop genre. There's also a brief interview with action director Stephen Tung. He realizes better what the audience really wants to hear, and explains how they filmed the big action scenes. A short production featurette has the usual talking heads and behind the scenes footage of the stunts. They must have had some extra space on the disc, because they tossed in one of those little photo galleries, too.
Like so much of what comes out of mainstream Hollywood and Hong Kong, Heroic Duo is a safe production. It delivers exactly what's expected from the genre, and it feels comfortable and has no real surprises to offer. If you like Hong Kong action movies, it's a safe bet that you will enjoy it, but I can't imagine it becoming anyone's favorite film. Because of this, I can only recommend it as a rental some Friday evening when you want to be entertained but lack the energy for a new plot and characters.
Benny Chan has failed to bring anything new to the table, and is advised to be more creative in the future. Heroic Duo is free to go, but is unlikely to find much audience support.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Tartan Video
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* DTS 5.1 Surround (Cantonese)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Cantonese)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Cantonese)
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Interviews with Filmmakers
* Production Featurette