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Where EAST meets the Northwest

YOU ARE GETTING VERY SLEEPY. Ekin Cheng, left, plays detective Ken Li in Benny Chanís Heroic Duo. At right is Karena Lam, Ken Liís semi-partner and love interest in the film. (Photo courtesy of Tartan Video)

From The Asian Reporter, V15, #47 (November 22, 2005), page 11 and 16.

Chanís latest film is not hypnotic enough

Heroic Duo

Directed and produced by Benny Chan

Distributed by Tartan Video, 2005

Cantonese with English & Spanish subtitles

DVD, 100 minutes, $24.99

By Mike Street

Special to the Asian Reporter

In the well-worn detective thriller genre, filmmakers are always looking for a good twist on overused and familiar plots. Simply finding this new angle is not enough, however, as directors will often fall into the same clichťs and traps as their less creative predecessors. Such is the fate of Heroic Duo, the newest film from Hong Kong action director Benny Chan (Gen-X Cops, Who Am I?). In spite of Chanís always well-shot fight-and- chase scenes, and superior performances from Leon Lai (Comrades: Almost a Love Story) and Francis Ng (Infernal Affairs II and many TV series), the plot is still as riddled with holes as the corpses that litter the movieís landscape.

Ken Li, played by Ekin Cheng (teen heartthrob of the Young & Dangerous movies) is a policeman who plays by his own rules. After a prominent detective sets fire to the police stationís evidence safe, he admits to Li that he was hypnotized into committing the crime. To track down the man behind it, Li enlists the help of Jack Lai (Leon Lai), a famous hypnotist in prison for murder. Lai points towards his mentor, a master criminal named "Mindhunter," and proceeds to help Li track the man down ó or does he?

We soon see that Lai has another agenda, one which involves helping the Mindhunter (played with delicious villainy by Francis Ng) commit further crimes. As someone able to hypnotize during a casual conversation, Lai manipulates Li and his lover, policewoman Brenda (Karena Lam), into assisting him. When a hypnotized Li steals the priceless jewels he has been assigned to protect, he becomes a suspect as well. And Lai is himself being manipulated by the Mindhunter, who is holding his wife and her sisterís family hostage. Catching the master hypnotist means risking their lives as well.

Chan is someone clearly at home shooting and choreographing action sequences ó these moments are the highlights of the movie ó but he is just as clearly lost with difficult plots such as this one. Holes, inconsistencies, and vagueness abound as a result. For example, the Mindhunter, a master hypnotist, must resort to violence and blackmail to accomplish his ends ó we never see him use his hypnotic ability, even when interrogating a weak-willed victim. The hypnosis device itself becomes both overused and unbelievable, especially when Li recreates a drawing made for him by Lai during hypnosis, with such stunning accuracy that he is able to find a message hidden in it. And it took repeated viewings for this reviewer to clearly establish the identity of the family held hostage with Laiís wife. It is evidently her sisterís family, which raises the question of why his in-laws are necessary to keep Laiís interest ó isnít holding his wife enough?

Plots in this genre, however, rarely bear close scrutiny, so it is unsurprising that oneís disbelief must be fully suspended for the film to "work." If unsurprising, it is nonetheless unfortunate, as Lai relates hypnotism in the film to personal trauma, suggesting an exploration of hypnosis as more than simple manipulation. But Chan misses this opportunity to create something more than a standard action flick.

His characters rarely escape their narrowly drawn confines, with the exception of Li, who is particularly strong as he bounces back and forth between apparent good and evil. The relationship between Li and Brenda, on the other hand, is barely touched upon, and neither is given the depth that might have made this more than standard action fare. Karena Lam, who has shown the range of her acting in films like Inner Senses and Koma, is wasted on a role that requires her to do little more than prop up the shaky character played by Cheng.

What could have been a rich exploration of personal tragedy becomes instead just another detective movie, albeit one with a new twist and some fine action sequences. Ultimately, however, the weight of the haphazard plotting and melodramatic interactions becomes too much for these fight and chase scenes ó too few and far between ó to bear. The final showdown trucks out the worst kinds of melodrama, and feels unnecessarily long and drawn out. If interesting eye candy and sometimes stunning cinematography are enough to hypnotize you into forgetting about the poor plotting of Heroic Duo, then give this one a go. But if your mind is strong enough to resist such half-hearted attempts at mind control, youíll find better examples of this genre and Benny Chan elsewhere.

Heroic Duo is available on DVD. To learn more about Tartanís Asian film offerings, visit <www.tartanfilmsusa.com>.