Friday, August 19, 2016

From the Rental Vault: Hero Beyond the Boundary of Time (1993)

Often, movies which seem not to do well in the U.S. wind up recouping their losses in overseas markets. Sony, for example, hopes this happens with its Ghostbusters remake, where the box office has not kept up with its public profile. But historically comedies have not done as well in their "second chance" theater as action movies, which tend to translate more easily. Comedy has some cultural dimensions that can't necessarily be subtitled.

Although it might not mean to, 1993's Hero -- Beyond the Boundary of Time offers an example of what get lost in translation. In the 1600s, the Emperor of China is suffering from a peculiar wasting disease, and he sends his trusted minion Wai Siu-Bo 300 years into the future to find the mystery bride who can cure him. As might be expected, Wai Su-Bo has significant trouble adjusting to the new era, and he isn't helped by the slightly demented, slightly goofball police detective Chiu who takes him in tow. Things get more complicated when two evil men who want the Emperor dead make the time journey as well, pursued by two of Siu-Bo's wives. Their presence may help keep Siu-Bo safe, but it's going to interfere with his womanizing.

Hong Kong mainstay Tony Leung plays Siu-Bo with a mix of charm and smarm that sometimes goes a little heavy on the latter. He'd played this character before in a different setting on a TV series, but here gives a solid performance as an actor phoning in his role. Dicky Cheung's Chiu exists mostly to be the target of a Three Stooges parade of slapstick and act unbalanced. The actual conflict between the Emperor's enemies and his agents doesn't start until the movie is about two-thirds of the way finished, which leaves a lot of time for slapstick and jokes. That's where the cross-cultural issues come in, because a little Hong Kong cinema humor goes a long way, and a lot of Hong Kong cinema humor becomes way too much. The version I watched wasn't helped by clumsy subtitling. Having to stop to figure out a joke slows down a movie whether it's prompted by lousy writing or mistaken subtitles.

Hero has a couple of nice touches -- the time machine is inexplicably shaped like a teapot -- but they are few and largely overwhelmed by the middling level of the script and humor. Had the writers spent a little of their energy setting up their yuks and weaving them into their story, they would have wound up with a funnier movie -- in English as well as in Mandarin.

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