This is one of the most enjoyable over-the-top action-fantasy-comedy-romances you are ever likely to see – a film that delivers the colorful costumes, acrobatic action, and supernatural thrills associated with the genre while adding a winning dose of humor. Viewers familiar with Hong Kong’s supernatural martial arts cinema will find this parody a real scream, but the uninitiated may find themselves baffled, rather as if watching AIRPLANE without have seen AIRPORT.
Basically, almost everyone you’ve ever seen in one of these films is on hand to spoof him/herself. The plot, ostensibly about a villain’s attempt to usurp a kingdom and kidnap a princess (Lin), mostly follows the ways the multitude of characters criss-cross paths at cross purposes, always falling in love with someone who is in love with someone else. You would almost suspect a Woody Allen influence, but the feary tale reference sin the sub-titles (those in the theatrical print and reportedly better than on the video) suggest MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM as a more likely source.
The combination of fight choreography and comedy yields some truly hilarious results. One highlight – worth the price of admission all on its own – occurs when one of our love-lorn heroes decides he just wants to end it all. The villain of the piece happens upon him and obligingly offers to put him out of his misery. However, an increasingly ridiculous series of martial arts stances (all named after animals) fails to deliver the death blow, because our allgedly suicidal hero just can’t prevent his defensive instincts from kicking in. The villian’s increasingly frustrated reaction to being thocked, thumped, and thwacked by someone who allegedly intends to put up no defense, is priceless, as is our hero’s repeated apologies for fighting back.
The other comic-action set pieces are too numerous to list. Suffice to say that the tone is epitomized when the villain gloats that only a deux ex machina can possibly save our heroes – and one conveniently arrives.
This film is companion piece of sorts to ASHES OF TIME. Director Wong Kar Wai’s genre-defying costume epic, loosely based on the same source material as EAGLE SHOOTING HEROES, was shot in 1992 but not released until 1994. Using much of the same cast, the producer shot this film to help recoup some of his investment while waiting for Wong Kar Wai to finish and release his rather expensive production.
EAGLE SHOOTING HEROES (Se Diu Ying Hung Ji Dung Sing Sai Jau, 1993). Directed by Jeffrey Lau. Based on the novel by Louis Cha. Cast: Leslie Cheung, Brigitte Lin, Maggie Cheung, Tony Leung Chiu Wa, Tony Leung Ka Fai, Jacky Cheung, Carina Lau, Joey Wang, Veronic Yip, Kenny Bee.
Copyright 1995 Steve Biodrowski. This review originally appeared in the Summer 1995 issue of Imagi-Movies magazine.