The Heroic Trio / Executioners: To the Power of Three

<em>The Heroic Trio / Executioners: </em>To the Power of Three

By the 1990s, Hong Kong cinema had become beloved around the world for its restless innovation and dizzying hybridity. Few films exemplify the spirit of that era more fully than The Heroic Trio (1993) and its sequel, Executioners (also 1993), both made by director Johnnie To and action choreographer Ching Siu-tung. Combining the mythical traditions of the wuxia genre, the grit and melodrama of the Hong Kong New Wave filmmaking of the 1980s, and a dollop of loony comic-book futurism, these ass-kicking fantasias are also notable as dazzling showcases of female physicality. At a time when Hollywood was capitalizing on films featuring ball-busting women—think Sigourney Weaver in the Alien franchise and Linda Hamilton in the Terminator movies—To and Ching presented girl power on a completely different and much weirder wavelength, enabled by a local industry that ran on breakneck production schedules and employed intrepid stuntpeople who cackled in the face of insurance policies. The films’ three headliners—Michelle Yeoh, Anita Mui, and Maggie Cheung—together portray a powerhouse trio like Charlie’s Angels but without any ties to a masculine authority. Here the veteran stars, who were considered pop-culture treasures long before they donned their capes, stand as emblems of Hong Kong cinema at its height.

Johnnie To set out to make The Heroic Trio during a curious in-between period in his career. His origins were humble and commercial: he had started out in television, joining the TVB network in 1973 as a messenger boy before becoming a director who churned out typical genre material on command. In 1986, he settled into life on movie sets, making crowd-pleasing confections mainly for Cinema City Enterprises until the once-illustrious studio shut down in 1991. When The Heroic Trio and Executioners came out in 1993, To was still a few years away from launching his own production company, Milkyway Image, which would give him the freedom to develop a more personal style. But while these two movies are examples of the fast-and-furious budget filmmaking of To’s early years, they also contain shades of the motley genre-subverting approaches of his Milkyway era. And much of their aesthetic is attributable to Ching, who is credited as producer and action choreographer on the first installment and as codirector and producer on the second. The partners’ division of labor—characteristic of Cantonese productions of the time—meant that To took charge of the script and nonaction scenes while Ching conceived the fights and production design, which have a graphic-novel panache unlike anything To had done before.

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The Heroic Trio
The Heroic Trio

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