Also Known As
Shuang xiong
Directed by Benny Chan
Hong Kong/2003 – 100 Minutes/Widescreen
DVD Provided by Tartan Video
Article written by Craig Hamann

Sometimes it’s cool to watch a movie that is more of a cool diversion than a masterpiece. It’s fun for the eyes and exciting for the heart and mind. Basically, filmmaker Benny Chan’s HEROIC DUO is like that. It’s not all that original and may even be a slight rip-off of the Japanese film KYUA (aka CURE) by Kiyoshi Kurosawa, but Chan’s movie is nevertheless smartly directed, acted, and edited.

The first thing we learn about Ken Li (Ekin Cheng) is that he’s a tough and efficient cop but also troubled by guilt feelings from his past. Ken is great at barking out orders at the other police officers working for him, but he’s so emotionally blocked that he can’t utter a sound when it comes to salvaging his relationship with Brenda (Kar Yan Lam), a pretty police officer who is also his girlfriend. Presently, Ken finds himself involved in a baffling case where a respected police detective commits a strange crime that he can’t seem to remember. The detective claims that someone hypnotized him, but he can’t explain his actions beyond that. Then surprisingly, the detective then shoots himself in the head and dies. Ken seeks assistance from Jack Lai (Leon Lai), a former police psychologist now in prison for murder. Lai is unique in that he’s an outstanding hypnotist in his own right and he confides that he was trained by Hoi (Francis Ng) who is also known as the “Mind-hunter.” It turns out that Hoi is a reprehensible villain responsible for a series of gruesome crimes, including the tough case that Ken is working on. Ken and Jack form an uneasy alliance and try to track down the Mind-hunter. However, is Jack really working with Ken or against him? What’s more, is Jack employed by the dangerous Mind-hunter? And is Jack actually slowly but surely hypnotizing Ken as the investigation proceeds?

Director Chan does a great job at keeping the action moving without ever sacrificing the relationship between Ken and Jack, as well as the romance between Ken and Brenda. He even manages to show us the touching bond that Jack and his wife have, despite the fact that she is held captive by the Mind-hunter. There are great stunt gags, and some very cool fights and high-speed car chases. Chan and cinematographer Liu-Ming Poon enthusiastically present a stylishly film but they shoot it in dark tones that effectively retain a strong degree of realism. Adding to this is the smooth and creative editing by veteran Ka-Fai Cheung. The script by Shun Fai Kwan and Alan Yuen is cleverly constructed, offering some nice twists and interesting sets of clues throughout the story. The only downfall comes in the third act when the story suddenly takes a weird tonal change and becomes too contrived and drawn out. Fortunately, this dramatic glitch goes away after a bit and the film still has a nice finish.

The acting by the two leads is first rate. Ekin Cheng is completely believable as Ken. We see his character arc clearly, as he goes from a troubled, tormented soul to a man that finally lets his guard down with his girlfriend, which also helps him to solve a puzzling case. Well known Hong Kong actor Leon Lai gives an impeccable performance as Jack. Ken and Jack first rely on each other because they have no choice. Neither man can bring down the Mind-hunter alone. But their relationship goes beyond that when they help each other put to rest their personal emotional demons. In the end, the two men teach each other about life, sacrifice, love, loyalty, and self-forgiveness. It’s great stuff. The rest of the cast is also quite convincing, including a stunning job by Francis Ng as the Mind-hunter. Ng’s character is lonely and unloved, and the only way he finds pleasure seems to be through causing pain in other people. This is a character that could have easily gone over the top, but Ng keeps it real with a confidently crafted portrayal of a man who is truly one nasty bad guy.

Tartan Video brings the disc to the market in an anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen format that looks good but not great. However, it is very watchable. The sound is available in DTS 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1, or Dolby Digital 2.0. All are presented in surround sound. The language is in Cantonese with English subtitles, which means the viewer hears the actual performances from the actors. There is an interesting “Making-of” featurette, interviews with the cast and some of the filmmakers, and a photo gallery. I definitely recommend this movie. Despite a somewhat contrived climax, Chan’s film is well executed and genuinely entertaining. While it isn’t a Hong Kong classic, HEROIC DUO still is must see entertainment for genre fans.