With their first domestic release a few months ago (The Heroic Trio), Tai Seng showed us just how good well-transferred Hong Kong movies can look. It’s time for more, and Tai Seng have beaten their previous record with this one. "The Executioners" is the sequel to the aforementioned "The Heroic Trio", starring the same cast and much of the same crew, bringing back the three supernaturally powerful femme fatales in this great new release.
"The Executioners" is set some time after "The Heroic Trio", based in a world that has been destroyed and contaminated by a nuclear war. The remaining society is desolate, politically separated, and hostile. The last remaining clean water in the world is controlled by the Black Knight, Mr. Kim (Anthony Wong), who now starts a bloody political war in his bid to rule the world. To do so, he manipulates public opinion through a spiritual leader named Chong Hong. When one of Hong’s public appearances turns into a riot, increasingly wary officials order police commissioner Lau to assassinate Hong. Though Lau fails, another assassin one sent by the evil Mr. Kim himself manages to blow the spiritual leader to pieces with a grenade. Now, with society in turmoil, his ultimate target is the world’s president. He sends out his henchmen to assassinate the president and destroy any remaining bit of hope for unity for humanity.
It is up to the Heroic Trio, Tung (Anita Mui), Ching (Michelle Yeoh), and Chat (Maggie Cheung) to make sure this will not happen. Their fight against the Black Knight’s minions and his corrupt militia comes with a high price; the three women are brought to the brink of self-sacrifice in order to stop the Mr. Kim’s dark empire and to find a new clean water source. Unlike the colorful "The Heroic Trio", "The Executioners" carries a somber and fatalistic mood throughout. It is a dark post-nuclear movie, and the main characters have changed to more serious, slightly disillusioned women. With all the darkness, however, "The Executioners" also carries the trademark of most Asian movies. Its emotional elements are just as strong as its action elements.
Unlike American action cinema, Hong Kong filmmakers always try to present us with breathing characters, no matter how supernatural. They explore the characters’ incentives, hopes, beliefs, fears, and motives. Picking Anita Mui, Michelle Yeoh, and Maggie Cheung, three of Hong Kong’s most prestigious actresses, for "The Executioners" worked for the overall impact of the movie once again. All three of them lend an astounding depth, believability, and strength to their characters, qualities that let us look deep into their souls, showing us what drives people and keeps them alive in an environment as desperate and bleak as the one depicted in this movie. The fact that they are performing some heart stopping "real" human stunts and display an amazing perfection in mastering their Kung Fu becomes almost secondary.
It is a personal, sometimes melancholic story of three women, bonding to save their own lives and humanity in the wake of disaster, in a world where conflict is day-to-day routine and mastery of martial arts is integral for survival. Thanks to Johnny To’s visionary and testeful direction and Ching Siu Tung’s superb stunt choreography, "The Executioners" is nevertheless a racy and visually striking action adventure that hardly tries to deny its feelings and fears about Hong Kong’s reunification with mainland China, which was impending at the time the movie was shot in 1995.
As with their previous domestic releases, Tai Seng have gone to quite some length to restore the movie, cleaning up the film master from which this DVD transfer is taken. If you have seen this movie before, you will be amazed by the clean and sharp picture and the nearly non-existent amount of scratches and wear this transfer exhibits. The movie’s overall dark atmosphere, combined with the blue-tinged settings, are quite a challenge to current video technology; you will be pleased to hear that this disc is flawless in its picture quality. There is no chroma noise or pixelation to be found, even in scenes with the most difficult lighting conditions. The colors are solid and naturally rendered, bringing across all of Hang-Sang Poon’s beautiful cinematography. The movie is letterboxed, presented in its original widescreen aspect ratio. Good news also in the sound section. The disc features a great Dolby Digital 2.0 channel soundtrack and comes fully dubbed in English, Cantonese, and Mandarin. The musical score perfectly captures the sad and bleak atmosphere of the movie, and adds a lot of dimension to the overall impact of the film. The songs, some of them performed by Anita Mui herself, nicely capture the essence of the movie.
As with all of their domestic releases, it is obvious that Tai Seng is targeting their disc mainly to an English-speaking audience, because the disc defaults to the English language dub instead of the original Cantonese version. Personally, I prefer the original language track with English subtitles, but then again, this is a matter of personal preference. The movie has also been completely re-titled. The subtitles are now crisp and highly legible at the bottom of the screen. On a sidenote, however, I feel it is a very nice and considerate touch that the subtitles appear at the top of the screen during the movie’s opening, where they would otherwise have collided with the opening credits at the bottom.
Like "The Heroic Trio", this movie is one of the top-of-the-line movies of Asia’s Fantasy Cinema. If other Hong Kong movies are too goofy for you, or if you are as disappointed with current Hollywood superhero movies, as I am, take a look at "The Executioners". It is an ambitious and cleverly-done movie that is well worth your money.