Eagle Shooting Heroes (1993, Jeffrey Lau)

I read about this when researching Ashes of Time and wasn’t sure I believed it existed… but whattaya know, the video store has it on DVD. And in crystal-clear quality with good subtitles, versus my blurry, half-assed copy of Ashes of Time. How’s that for justice? Oh well, Ashes gets a sparking theatrical reissue with a blu-ray disc to follow, so I guess time heals.

If you’d run these two movies back-to-back I wouldn’t have even suspected they’re both based on the same novel. Yeah, I’d be aware that most of the same actors are here, and some character names are the same, and both movies have borderline-incomprehensible plots, but the only person who seems vaguely similar is Jacky Cheung’s beggar king. This was exec-produced by Wong Kar-Wai, with great fight choreography by Sammo Hung, and shot at the same time as Ashes. Of course, this came out a year earlier because of Wong’s legendary slowness. And it was a bigger hit, because of Wong’s legendary artiness.

It’s actually a good movie… I enjoyed it more than Katy was enjoying Smart People in the other room. Some of the jokes are funny, some of the action is awesome, color is bright, editing is controlled and coherent, and it never drags. Everyone seems dubbed, though. It’s stupid as hell, but in a fun way. I’m not gonna try too hard to get the plot details straight, but here’s an actor/character spread to match the one I did for Ashes:

Tony “Tony 1″ Leung Chiu Wai held his title as “the saddest of all actors” for three days, before it was revoked. This screen shot should indicate why. Here he’s an unexplained evil dude who chases the princess to obtain the royal seal and usurp the throne. It doesn’t go well… despite his very powerful toad-style kung fu, he’s beaten to hell (in self-defense) by Jacky Cheung and defeated at the palace by the combined forces of the good guys, so he decides he’s a giant duck and happily joins the cave monsters. Tony 1 has probably got the most complicated story and the most screen time, and he does a great job, really, as an evil goofball warrior. His name is Ouyang Feng (Leslie’s role in Ashes).
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Veronica Yip is Tony 1′s evil partner. I don’t know where she goes between the first few scenes and the last few.
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Brigitte Lin is the princess being chased by those two. Everybody humors her one kung fu attack, which is powerful but lacks any accuracy. She’s poisoned at the end, but that turns out to be nothing. She was engaged to Prince Duan, but that also turns out to be nothing.
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Leslie Cheung is Yaoshi, a kung fu master chosen to protect the princess. He has a mark of three sixes on his chest, which for some reason doesn’t make him the devil, but rather Tony 2′s one true love. He is sweet on Suqiu, who is the only girl he’d ever seen until the princess comes along. He’s playing the role Tony 2 did in Ashes.
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Joey Wang is Suqiu, Leslie’s sweetheart who fears losing him so follows him and the princess. I think she gets him back in the finale, from the way they’re fighting together. Joey was supposed to be in Ashes of Time, but when she couldn’t do re-shoots, was replaced by Charlie Yeung, another girl with a boy’s name.
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Carina Lau is Zhou Botong – she’s actually playing a male monk, not ambiguous like Brigitte in Ashes. When her master is killed by a magical boot discarded by Tony 1, she thinks it’s Leslie’s fault, and follows them parallel to Suqiu to take revenge. Movie ends with her dreaming of her master returning to requite her love – weird.
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Tony “Tony 2″ Leung Ka Fai is Duan, a lame but extremely powerful guy who speaks English in his first scene. He’s engaged to the princess, but wanting to be immortal, he goes looking for his immortal true love. When he finds Leslie and tricks him into saying “I love you” three times (there is cross-dressing involved, and a floating disembodied head), Tony 2 ascends to heaven, returning in the finale to kick Tony 1′s ass.
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Jacky Cheung is Hong Qi the beggar king, cousin of Suqiu who wants desperately to marry her. She won’t marry him so he decides to die instead, tries to get every passing kung-fu master to kill him, but he’s too powerful and ends up hurting them instead. Funny that the only happy guy in Ashes should end up playing a suicidal version of the same character in the comic parody.
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Maggie Cheung barely appears in this, just like she barely appears in Ashes and 2046. Maybe it’s an in-joke, or maybe it’s because IMDB lists twelve other 1993 movies she acted in (not including 1994′s Ashes). She is a sorceress who gives the evil duo some malfunctioning equipment (magic flying boots and invincible killer bees) and shows up in the finale to help kick ass.
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Director Lau made some Stephen Chow movies and another Wong Kar-Wai parody (Chinese Odyssey 2002), again produced by Wong himself.

Excerpts from DVDTalk’s review:

written by no one apparently (there is no credited screenplay)… Lau and his cast appear to have never met a silly joke they haven’t liked, even resorting to Three Stooges-style eye pokes and rubber gorilla suits… I was never entirely sure who was after what mystical book or royal seal, nor could I always tell who hated whom and why… everyone gets chased by the vengeance seeking, chubby homosexual Zho Botong (2046′s Carina Lau playing a man). Most of the characters change allegiances at least once, several do so while hallucinating… Really, it’s the fights that are the best part of Eagle Shooting Heroes, when the movie can take a break from the headache-inducing script (or lack thereof) and show off a little… Eagle Shooting Heroes was shot by the awesome Peter Pau (Crouching Tiger, The Promise), which only adds to the incredible roster of talent that threw standards to the wind and made this goofball adventure. It makes it all the more of a waste that Wong Kar-Wai didn’t hire a real comedy writer to whip the material into shape. All of his people are ready to totally go for it, just what “it” is seems to confuse them all.

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