Johnnie To: Expect the Unexpected

A Hero Never Dies

Chan sam ying hung

Johnnie ToHong Kong86 minutes1998RColourCantonese

Dec 8
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Two gangsters (played by pop star Leon Lai and To stalwart Lau Ching-wan) visit the same fortune teller, confront each other in a virtuoso, wordless set piece in a bar, are gunned down (but not out), then rise to confront their tormentors, separately and together, in life and in death. If Johnnie To had not been conveniently branded an "action filmmaker," he might have acquired himself a reputation as a cryptic, experimental formalist with such films as A Hero Never Dies: characters, shots, and scenarios are unfolded with patient formal precision; each shot is a mirror of another, each character a perfect complement of his opposite. (Fittingly, To invokes the hall-of-mirrors conclusion of Welles' Lady from Shanghai in his finale.) "Maximally minimalist … [A Hero Never Dies] exemplifies how To can create an infectious piece of cinema out of the simplest possible elements" (David Bordwell).

Print courtesy of the Academy Film Archive.