Year of release: 1987
Director: Derek Yee
Producer: John Shum
Writers: Derek Yee, Keith Lee, Kwan Yiu-Wing
Cinematography: Wilson Chan
Editor: Ma Chung-Yiu
Music: Lowell Lo
Stars: Ti Lung, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Tony Leung Ka-Fai, Elaine Kam, Paul Chun Pui, Ronald Wong, Bowie Lam, Benz Kong, Teddy Yip
Not rated; contains IIB-level violence
DVD available for purchase at www.sensasian.com
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People's Hero failed to make much of an impact with local audiences upon its' release in 1987. And, despite it winning two Hong Kong Film Awards for acting (via Tony Leung Chiu-Wai and Elaine Kam), it's gone virtually un-noticed for the twenty years since. That's a shame, since People's Hero is a very solid crime picture that manages to be very exciting, even though there is next to no action during the entire running time.
The movie is, on the surface, about a bank robbery that goes horribly wrong. However, like many productions done by Derek Yee and John Shum, there is a deeper subtext about Hong Kong society as a whole. People's Hero's protagonist is Sai (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai), a young man who takes to robbery to pay off his debts. Things start to go south when his partner, Boney (Ronald Wong) has an epiletic fit which leads to a shootout that attracts the cops.
Sai is ready to give himself up when one of the customers produces a very large gun -- turns out he's a very nasty criminal named Sunny Koo (Ti Lung). Sunny takes the customers (and former robbers) hostages and begins to negotiate with the police, who are led by Chan (Tony Leung Ka-Fai). Sunny's main demand is that his girlfriend Lotus (Elaine Kam) be let out of jail; Chan agrees, but Chan's superior officer, Cheung (Paul Chun Pui), doesn't plan to let Sunny go so easily.
That's a fairly dense plot summary for what would usually be a standard crime movie, and it's all the more amazing that it's all packed into an eighty-minute package. There's no bloat at all here. Every scene and every line is important to the film. New directors (as well as many veterans) would be well-advised to take a look at this picture and realize that making a movie three hours long doesn't necessarily make it good.
And if you thought the above summary spoiled things, don't worry. There are a lot of little twists and turns here that a short review couldn't even hope to delve into. The hostages each represent a certain segment of life in Hong Kong at the time. There's the loud Triad, the nouveau riche Mainlander, the east Asian immigrant, the bratty teenager, the stubborn old lady, and so forth. On the surface, this seems like a cheesy gimmick, but Derek Yee really makes it work, and seeing the interaction the hostages have between themselves is just as interesting as the deadly game the criminals and cops are playing with each other.
There's nothing really flashy at all about People's Hero. In fact, it's pretty low-budget and cheap-looking. But it's something a lot of the recent over-blown Hong Kong productions aren't. It's exciting without insulting the viewer's intelligence, and once again proves that a skilled film-maker working with talented actors will win over CGI-gasms (no matter how much money is thrown at the effects) any day of the week. With Mei Ah's recent DVD release, a new audience has a chance to take a look at this film, which is definitely one of the hidden gems of the "golden age".