The Executioners

This is the sequel to Heroic Trio, but what a difference a day makes.  I enjoyed it for the most part, but what a dark, disturbing and desolate work. Johnnie To must have been taking downers by the dozen to come up with this story.

It was fun watching both movies back to back at the Michelle Yeoh Film Festival. In Heroic Trio the crowd was totally into it - cheering and laughing, while in The Executioners it was dead silence as they watched the jarring plot unfold. Not to give away too much, but lots of unpleasant surprises take place. No swirling cape ending in this one.

The film is set in the near future after a nuclear explosion has contaminated all the drinking water and life feels hopeless and miserable. The government headed by the President (Kwan Shah - father of Rosamund) is tottering under pressure from a religious prophet (Takeshi Kaneshiro) and under threat from a fascistic military Colonel (Paul Chun Pui). Behind much of the chaos and the political maneuvering is a ghoulish madman (Anthony Wong) whose face lies in tatters behind his mask. The lives for the three heroines have changed as well. Michelle aided by her disfigured croaking friend Kau is helping deliver supplies to the needy, Maggie has turned to stealing and re-selling clean water and Anita has put her life as Wonder Woman behind her as a promise to her husband Damian Lau to take care of their child. Events lead them to come together once again.

Though clearly working on a limited budget directors Johnnie To and Ching Siu Tung still manage to put an amazing amount of frenetic activity and plot twists on the screen. Though this film is missing the astonishing magic of Heroic Trio, there is still much here that is surprisingly good. The sense of a world falling apart, the train station scene in which the killers appear through the tear gas to annihilate everyone, Wonder Woman breaking out of prison and of course the wonderful bath scene! The film's main weakness really is the natural comparison to Heroic Trio - on its own I think it would have been considered an imaginative and intriguing film - but it pales a bit by comparison. It's a film that once I got over the initial shock I have come to enjoy more with each viewing.
My rating for this film: 8.0

Reviewed by YTSL

"The Heroic Trio" is an extremely enjoyable -- even if surprisingly violent and sad in parts (I think here of a scene where two of our heroines come across cannibalistic monster children, blow them up to save them from a fate worse than death but still display regret at having killed so many young half-human lives in one fell swoop...) -- production that has been known to convert its viewers into major Hong Kong movie fans.  In contrast, this overwhelmingly emotional and amazingly dark work -- whose mood change is signaled by "The Heroic Trio"'s ebullient signature song (sung by Anita Mui) having been transformed into the melancholy instrumental piece we hear right at the start of that made back-to-back with it, stars the same three charismatic actresses (Michelle Yeoh, Anita Mui and Maggie Cheung) and is once more co-directed by Johnnie To and Ching Siu Tung -- can make (other) people decide to never watch a film from that part of the world ever again.  Trust me when I say that I've seen the former happen and damn nearly had the latter occur to me.

Political and economic reasons have been publicly offered as explanations of why EXECUTIONERS is the majorly downbeat production that it is.  The second movie that features three female butt-kicking superheroines who hitherto were collectively known as "The Heroic Trio" has been described in all seriousness as "a remarkably grim post-1997 allegory" (See Fredric Dannen and Barry Long's "Hong Kong Babylon", 1997:225) which is "[s]uffused with bitter echoes of the Tiananmen Square Massacre" (Howard Hampton in "Hong Kong Babylon", 1997:338).  Those who think this all rather far fetched surely would also not be too satisfied with Johnnie To's account of the film ending up this way -- in his words "less creative" as well as having "less (sic.) action scenes and more dramatic ones" than its sister work -- due to its having been allocated a smaller budget than the earlier work (See Miles Woods' "Cine East", 1998:121).  This is not least because there clearly appear to be so many less painful and depressing ways to be "less creative" and more cost effective measures taken than those decided upon.  This (re)viewer also wonders whether labor is that cheap in Hong Kong for a movie that definitely features a larger number of supporting actors (including the film debut-making Takeshi Kaneshiro and the man who seems to have latterly have become Johnnie To's on-screen alter-ego, Lau Ching Wan) as well as extras to be substantially cheaper than that which marginally saw more destruction to material objects.
If it is not abundantly obvious by now, most people's dissatisfaction with EXECUTIONERS does not arise from its being a technically bad or thoroughly unwatchable film.  Rather, it really primarily is that the general tone it possesses -- and tack it takes -- is absolutely not what one would expect of a production that features characters such as a former Invisible Girl along with gal-pals of hers who are known as Thief Catcher and Wonder Woman (much less lead actresses who are a former Miss Malaysia, a Miss Hong Kong runner-up and "the Madonna of Asia").  To be sure, this is not to say that this work does not have other problems (not least that of continuity, scientific logic and technological sense) but all that pales when compared to what I will call THE BIG MISTAKE (which you will undoubtedly recognize as such when it unfolds on your screen).
Again, if it had not happened to me personally, I also would think it very unlikely that a somewhat flawed movie with this implausible a plot premise could cause a viewer to care so much about the main characters, their situation and their fates.  We are, after all, talking about a story which involves:  A post nuclear bombed world, where uncontaminated water has become a scarce commodity; so much so that the masked as well as scarred boss of a water company (this is the larger of Anthony Wong's two roles in this film, both of which require him to express himself without the audience seeing much of his face!) -- aided and abetted by a high ranking military officer (Like Wong, Paul Chun Pui has a role in EXECUTIONERS which is quite different from what he did in "The Heroic Trio") -- could have serious along with warped ambitions to become head of government.
It is a measure of the significant dramatic abilities of Michelle Yeoh (who really ought to be given due credit for being much more than just a superb action actress), Anita Mui (whose considerable talents I am increasingly coming to appreciate) and Maggie Cheung (a star performer who appears equally adept at slapstick and showing pathos, not at all out of place in a Wong Jing or Wong Kar Wai movie, and at home in France as well as Hong Kong) that they can make the (re)viewer actually:  Feel Ching's pain and understand her willingness to sacrifice herself for what she perceives as a greater good; respect Tung's devotion and be touched by her loss; and sense Chat's tenderness as well as guilt underneath her tough act and bravado.  Still, I must admit to wishing that they had appeared in more fun scenes like that which infamously put these three physically (as well as in myriad other ways) attractive women -- plus Wonder Woman and Mr. Lau's (Damian Lau also reprises his role) little daughter, who invariably gets cropped out of the pictures which captured these moments for posterity! -- in a single bubble-filled bathtub!  And wouldn't it be nice if there could have been a Heroic Trio Trilogy...?
My rating for the film:  7.


DVD Information:

Distributor - Universe

The transfer is generally quite good - certainly much better than the Tai Seng video I have.  

Letterbox

Trailer

Previews: Heroic Trio, Yes Madam and Royal Warriors

8 Chapters

Subs - English, Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese and Malaysian

Easy to read subs - one annoying thing that appears to be happening for many DVDs is that some of the sub-titles were changed - and usually for the worse  - and Wonder Woman's name inexplicably was changed from Tung to Dong Dong. Dong Dong?! (I have actually been informed that Dong Dong is actually the proper name to be using! Just hard to get used to.)  

Star files on Michelle Yeoh, Johnnie To and Ching Siu Tung