Film Reviews

Heroes and Villains: Three Films Starring Jet Li – Blu-ray Review

Heroes and Villains: Three Films Starring Jet Li is a new release from Eureka Entertainment’s Eureka Classics imprint. Comprised of three films from Jet Li‘s 1990s filmography, the title of the set may give some idea as to why these were chosen over any of the other more-than-twenty releases of which he was a part before making his way to Hollywood with Lethal Weapon IV. In truth, the choices seem reasonably random, with Li not really playing anything approaching a bad guy in any of these films, and the three movies all feeling vastly different from each other.

The first film in the set is The Enforcer (1995). This was the film’s name for its UK release but is known elsewhere by the far more pertinent My Father is a Hero. Li plays Kung Wei, an undercover police officer that is used to a great deal of time away from home in the course of ingratiating himself with elements of the underworld. At home is his wife, sick with severe asthma, and a young son Ku (Tse Mui), who looks around ten years old. When his job attracts the attention of off-duty detective Anne Fong (Anita Mui), she heads to Beijing to discover his identity. Befriending his wife, who soon passes from her illness, Anne is charged with taking care of the boy, and they will eventually have to head to Hong Kong to rescue Wei from the bad guys. The style of the film is dated, with the music more eighties than nineties, and the action is not particularly inventive, but it has decent moments of both humour and pathos.

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In Dr Wai in The Scripture with No Words (1996), Li plays Kit (at least in the theatrical version), a writer of adventure stories for a newspaper. Contracted to write one hundred stories, he is stuck on ninety-three. Distracted by a painful separation from his wife, his colleagues help by accessing his computer and continuing to develop tales for him. Based in 1930s China, the stories relate to an Indiana Jones-type adventurer known as ‘The King of Adventures’, the film shows these stories, with Li playing the King and chasing a mysterious box not unlike the plot devices we know from the Harrison Ford movies. This is probably the most comedic of the three films, and a reasonably enjoyable romp, even if its troubled production is obvious. The framing device of Kit comes from reshoots after a number of period sets were destroyed during filming and, as such, the film ends up feeling like a curio, with no real stakes.

Hitman (1998) is by far the easiest plot to summarise; put simply, an old Japanese tycoon suspects that he may be murdered, establishing a reward fund for the person who finds his killer. After his predicted murder takes place, a small-time con artist and unusually sensitive and kind-hearted hitman (Li) team up to find the killer: a figure known as the ‘King of the Hitmen’. The action remains underwhelmingly shot and edited, but the film is funny and decently plotted.

Bonus Features for The Enforcer kick off with a feature commentary by Mike Leeder and Arne Venema. Venema is an American film and music video director, and Leeder is an English casting director (though we are not told this on the recording), and they are old hands at these things. They commentate together with a hugely infectious level of energy and fun, elevating a film that, whilst probably the strongest of the three in this set, is far from a masterpiece. They are good for memories of the era in which this was made (the handover of Hong Kong) and are a lot of fun, with an impressive knowledge of Hong Kong cinema and a good line in trivia.

Three archival features begin with ‘Crowd Pleaser: An Interview with Wong Jing’. This is around seventeen minutes, and is conducted in English with the film’s producer, as he discusses how he met Jet Li and came to work on this film. ‘Like Father, Like Son’ is an interview with Tse Mui, also credited as Xie Miao. He is a young adult by the time of the interview and talks for over a quarter of an hour about his martial arts training as a child, and how he came to play Jet Li’s son in the film. Finally, before a couple of deleted scenes (running to less than two minutes) and a trailer, we have ‘Born to be Bad: An Interview with Ken Lo’, stunt coordinator and veteran performer both in Jet Li and in Jackie Chan features.

In Dr Wai In The Scripture With No Words, we have the second of three commentaries by Mike Leeder and Arne Venema – again, probably the stand-out feature from the disc. Over the International version of the film is a track from film producer Frank Djeng, who does give his full background, which is very much as a Hong Kong film expert. He talks alone, leaving little dead air. He believes this to be the superior cut, and does a decent job explaining why, knowing – seemingly – everything about the film’s production.

Along with a trailer (for the Hong Kong cut), there is an archival feature, ‘The Smart and the Brave’. This runs to under seven minutes of old footage upon which it is difficult to comment, as the English subtitles pretty much run off the bottom of the screen at times. This feature – apparently about martial arts training in China – should never have passed quality control.

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For Hitman, we again start with a feature commentary by Venema and Leeder, in a track that is very much of a piece with their other two efforts. Before we get to a series of trailers – theatrical, English dubbed, UK DVD and American cut – we have four archival features: a Jet Li interview of around eleven minutes, similar interviews with Simon Yam (which he conducts in English), with  Keiji Sato (the meatiest at around fourteen minutes, also in English), and finally some footage from the film’s opening night. As old standard definition features, all are fairly unremarkable.

As always with Eureka Entertainment, there is an accompanying booklet. Running to a meaty thirty-two pages, this goes beyond the usual two essays, with three this time: one on each film. The Enforcer and Hitman are both discussed by David Desser and Dr Wai by Simon Abrams. There is a good mixture of context of the times, discussion of influences and of differing views on the various cuts across these essays that ensure this booklet is up to the usual standard, in terms of content, even if the artwork for this set is deeply uninspired. This rounds off a set that feels a little random and rushed. Although the booklet is excellent, the only new features are the commentaries and the selection of films seem random, not even being consecutive releases. A rare miss from the usually excellent Eureka.

Heroes and Villains: Three Films Starring Jet Li is out on 20th November from Eureka Entertainment.

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