Heroes Never Die

Milkyway Productions is the brainchild of directors Wai Ka-fai (who previously gave us Chow Yun-fat's Hong Kong swan song, Peace Hotel) and the ever reliable Johnnie To, who scored pre-Milkyway hits like Heroic Trio. Using a regular group of cast and crew (actor Lau Ching-wan may convince some here that he is the successor to Chow Yun-fat), To and Wai have churned out an impressive body of films, which, if not commercial successes, have certainly been critical darlings.

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Patrick Yau's The Longest Nite is an expressionistic Macao gangster tour de force starring Tony Leung as an extremely nasty cop under the thumb of a triad kingpin. His life suddenly spins out of control with the arrival of a mysterious man played by Lau Ching-wan, who has set up a conspiracy against Leung so nihilistic and convoluted it would have Brian De Palma drooling. To's A Hero Never Dies tries to one-up John Woo on almost every level, and often succeeds: A pair of opposing hitmen, played by Lau Ching-wan and Canto-pop icon Leon Lai, suffer similar fates when their warring bosses make nice and decide that both men are disposable. The film goes on to a Better Tomorrow-like scenario in which each vows revenge. The best entry in the series is The Mission, in which five disparate gangsters are hired to protect a triad kingpin. The film strikes a comfortable balance between stylistic excess and characterization; with its emphasis on small moments of camaraderie over ballistic gunfights, it plays more like a Beat Takeshi movie than the usual HK fare.

Spacked Out, directed by Lawrence Ah Mon (Larry Lau), could be seen as a follow-up to his 1987 neorealist epic, Gangs. Using an impressive group of nonactors, the film chronicles the lives of four 13-year-old girls from poor and broken families whose futures seem to hold only drugs, abortions, and petty crime. The antithesis of the other gangster-glam films in this series, Spacked Out is a sobering reminder that small-time triad life is rarely heroic.

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