Home Video Hovel: The Heroic Trio/Executioners, by Rudie Obias

When I think of the Criterion Collection’s mission statement of “publishing important classic and contemporary films from around the world,” I think about the size and undertaking of selecting a film, restoring it with high quality picture and sound, curating bonus features, packaging it with ultra cool artwork, and then having to justify adding the film to the beloved collection to cinema nitwits like me.

Sometimes reviews and podcasts might even add a line like, “is it worth adding to the collection?” to sum up a film’s worth. At the end of the day, it’s all subjective and the important thing is to watch and have an opinion for yourself.

Which brings me to the subject of this review, Hong Kong director Johnnie To’s 1993 double feature The Heroic Trio and its sequel Executioners are new additions to the Criterion Collection. Fun fact: To directed four films and produced another in 1993 — that’s five releases in one year. Interestingly, this era of Hong Kong cinema was sort of at a crossroads during the late ‘80s and early ‘90s with movies going from classic Peking Opera-style martial arts to hard-boiled urban tales with influences in American action cinema.

A perfect example of that is a previous review on this website for Jackie Chan: Emergence of a Superstar boxed set from the Criterion Collection. The set features movies from Chan’s early career from the late ‘70s to the late ‘80s and you could tell that the movies got increasingly more modern in character and setting throughout the years.

The Heroic Trio

Released in February 1993, The Heroic Trio follows the mysterious disappearance of babies throughout Hong Kong. In one of the film’s opening scenes, we witness an abduction of two babies from a hospital from an invisible entity, while sword-wielding Tung AKA Wonder Woman, played by the late and great Anita Mui, dashes through the air to save the very young children.

We learn that Ching AKA Invisible Woman, played by Academy Award-winner Michelle Yeoh, is stealing babies for the Evil Master, played by Yen Shi-Kwan, an ancient evil lurking underground in the Hong Kong sewer system. Later, a shotgun-toting, “London Bridge” whistling bounty hunter named Chat AKA Thief Catcher, played by Maggie Cheung is hired by the police force to help find the missing babies.

Although The Heroic Trio is a bit convoluted with its plot, it’s a wonderful showcase of action cinema with performances that shine through and through — especially when all three of the superheroines join forces to form the titular “Heroic Trio.” Michelle Yeoh is always fantastic, Anita Mui has a lot of the heart and soul of the film, and Maggie Cheung is… well, she’s Maggie Cheung, a very charming and exciting actress. Someone you can’t help, but develop a crush on throughout the film. 


Released in September 1993, Executioners features the same cast playing the same characters with the same crew and just about the same sets. However, Ching Siu-tung was brought on to co-direct with Johnnie To. The sequel is set 10 years after The Heroic Trio with a nuclear explosion nearly destroying all of Hong Kong. It’s a post-apocalyptic world. Hong Kong by way of Mad Max. Resources, like food and clean water, are scarce, while martial law is enacted with corrupt government and military officials.

Tung now has a young daughter, while she hasn’t picked up her mask since her child was born. But must take up the mask and sword again, after her daughter goes missing and her husband is murdered. Executioners is a bitter film with a darker tone and cynical sense of humor. You just have to wonder what happened in the seven months between the two releases that took a darker tone with a gray morality.

As for the release itself, both films are presented in one set with a single spine number (#1207). The 4K Ultra HD restoration is worth the price of admission, especially since these movies haven’t received an upgrade from the VHS and early DVD era. The colors are bright and have a lot of pop, while audio has clarity with a new 5.1 surround sound remix. A definite step up from gas station bootlegs from more than 20 years ago.

Moreover, these two movies The Heroic Trio and Executioners seem to combine both aesthetics into one over-the-top, high-octane thrill ride. The end result being a mixed bag of filmmaking and storytelling. Although there’s plenty to enjoy and admire with these two films, especially when it comes to its charming cast and action set pieces from a director on the rise.

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