The Heroic Trio is a Hong Kong martial arts film about three women who band together to stop a villain from abducting male infants in an effort to find and/or create China’s next emperor. I don’t know that I would call it a good movie. To my eyes, the wirework is pretty bad and the overall look is cheesy for a film made in 1993.
However, I was impressed with the three heroines. Each of the three stars plays a very distinct character, and by distinct I don’t just mean hairstyles. They are developed characters who can’t be easily reduced to stereotypes. Michelle Yeoh starts out on the Bad Guy’s side, but struggles with her conscience and her love for both the man she’s supposed to betray and her long-lost sister. Anita Mui is the city’s defender, but keeps her secret identity under wraps from her policeman husband. Maggie Cheung’s character Mercy, short for Mercenary, is all about money and fun, and if what she’s doing involves a gun and a motorcycle then so much the better.
Though the plot and action were sometimes bizarre, the movie was refreshingly free of the most annoying action heroine cliches. I didn’t see a lot of damsel in distress, lingerie or shower scenes, or gratuitous torture. The focus is more on the shifting allegiances among the three women. And rather than tell a story about shallow sisterhood or petty jealousy, the film’s creators instead tell a story about characters with complex motivations who respond to each other differently as the story progresses.
None of the three women are exactly dressed to repel the male gaze, and for some reason none of them can seem to keep their bras from showing out from under their clothes. But when my brain went looking for an American equivalent to use as a comparison, I came up with Charlie’s Angels – and the women in The Heroic Trio came out way ahead. Any unrealistic elements in their outfits were more a fantasy element, such as long capes, than a sexy element. I did forget to check out their shoes, though, and for that I apologize.
I don’t know enough about Hong Kong cinema, Hong Kong, or China and any race/ethnicity issues within those cultures to speak to any racism that might be lurking within the film. Heck, I don’t even know enough to determine whether everyone in the film is Chinese or whether more than one ethnic group within China is represented. I did find it somewhat amusing, though, that my gut feeling was “Hey, this is great, a bunch of actors from Asia in an action movie and they’re not all cast as ninjas or kung fu experts.” Gee, do you really think that in Hong Kong that’s as much of a risk as it is with an American movie? I’m so trained to be suspicious!
I will give The Heroic Trio 3 stars for heroine content, the same rating as I gave So Close. Ensemble action movies with more than one heroine are few and far between, and this one does treat its heroines right. I don’t know if I’d recommend you see it unless you’re into the genre, but with a beer or two it might be worth checking out.
More Commentary: The Portrayal of the High Kicking Action Heroine: Across Space, Format, and Theories by Angela Waldrop in Latent Image: A Student Journal of Film Criticism
This post was originally published on Heroine Content, a feminist and anti-racist movie blog that ran from July 2006 to May 2012.