Xie Miao is a force to be reckoned with in the world of martial arts, consistently captivating audiences in every appearance he makes.
Jet Li went through a period of change in the mid-1990s. He had become known for his roles in martial arts films during the aftermath of the new wave, but as the genre became oversaturated, it was inevitable that he would transition into modern action movies. His first attempts at this were not very successful (Dragon Fight & The Master), but in 1994, he starred in the unapologetic rip-off of “The Bodyguard”, called “Bodyguard from Beijing”, which helped him gain acceptance in this new genre. “The Enforcer”, also known as “My Father is a Hero” in the western release, was a reunion for Li and the director, but this time with a script that included family drama, co-written by Wong Jing. As Eureka Entertainment releases their “Heroes and Villains” collection, it’s a good time to look back on this transitional period in Jet Li’s career and see how it stands up today.
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Undercover police officer Kun Wei is assigned to go to Hong Kong and gather information on criminal Po Kwong (played by Yu Rong Guang) and his criminal activities. He leaves his sick wife and talented martial arts son (played by Xie Miao) behind and pretends to escape from prison with one of his associates, Darkie (played by Blackie Ko). Inspector Fong (played by Anita Mui) travels to the mainland to investigate and discovers Kun Wei’s wife, who is dying and asks her to take care of his son. They all return to Hong Kong where Kun Wei searches for his father, while Fong encounters him in a dangerous hostage situation. As she unravels the truth, both father and son become involved in a dangerous situation that could result in their deaths. The climax of the story takes place on a boat filled with explosives as the trio teams up to take down the criminals.
Watching films prior to the 1997 handover can be like viewing an alternate universe. With the current trend of almost partisan positivity about China it can feel rather strange to see a world where not everything is so clear cut, with crime and corruption as rife as in Hong Kong. “The Enforcer” does not exactly make Hong Kong the land of opportunity, but neither is China the way it is portrayed in cinema today. It provides an unintended realism and grit to the backdrop that may not have been as evident at the time of release.
At this stage, Jet Li was still adjusting to modern action. He has strong dramatic moments and shows good chemistry with Xie Maio. There is less chemistry with Anita Mui, but this could be attributed to the writing as well as the interaction between the two actors. It is clear that he has a lot of stunt doubles, which is often criticized. However, this criticism is unfair as it is often compared to StuntmenStars. While it is exciting to see someone perform their own stunts, their safety should also be taken into consideration.
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Yu Rong Guang is often overlooked in the entertainment industry, but he possesses great talent. While he never achieved the expected level of fame, he still delivers exceptional performances. He typically portrays a serious and stern character on screen, but in this role, he plays the part of a comic book villain to the extreme. He has no qualms about sacrificing his own men for personal gain, always wears gloves to avoid getting his hands dirty, and has an intense energy rarely seen in his other roles. Corey Yuen’s directing also highlights his exaggerated performance with frequent close-ups. Alongside him are familiar henchmen from that time period, Ngai Sing (also known as Colin Chou) and Ken Lo.
Anita Mui plays Inspector Anne Fong, who is always present but never steals the spotlight. She started her acting career in typical love interest roles but has now become a skilled performer in action roles. Interestingly, she follows the trend of strong female police officers being involved with inadequate men, which was popular during this time. Damien Lau plays the reluctant policeman who prioritizes his current girlfriend and tries to take credit for Inspector Fong’s work to advance in his career. This dynamic may seem confusing from an outsider’s perspective, but it seems necessary for a talented policewoman to also have a chaotic personal life in order to be relatable. There are subtle hints of romance between Inspector Fong and Jet Li’s character, Kung Wei, but it is never explicitly shown. Anita Mui brings her own charm, humor, warmth and strength to the role, even though it is not fully developed. However, “The Enforcer” has a secret weapon that ultimately steals the show.
According to popular belief, it is not advisable for actors to work with children or animals. This advice rings true when it comes to Xie Miao, a young martial arts prodigy who effortlessly steals every scene he appears in as the son. He endures a rollercoaster of emotions, losing his mother and possibly his father, and facing multiple beatings (including being knocked unconscious by his own father!). However, he remains a formidable force until the end, where he is used as a human weapon by his father to defeat the villains. It is safe to say that his character will likely need therapy after his intense contribution to our entertainment.
The last task must also be given to Blackie Ko. As one of the rare car stunt coordinators in Hong Kong, he would sometimes make appearances on screen, most notably as the antagonist in “Curry & Pepper”. In this film, he plays a doomed henchman with a moral compass, evoking empathy from the audience in his scenes with Xie Miao.
Corey Yuen’s choreography for action scenes displays both the strengths and weaknesses of Hong Kong Cinema during this era. Unusually, there is a significant amount of wirework present, which adds to the entertainment value but can seem out of place when compared to the more realistic dramatic moments. Slow motion is utilized in typical fashion, and the talented cast brings energy and skill to every action sequence. Jet Li’s use of weapons is particularly impressive, and Xie Miao’s Wu Shu abilities are showcased throughout the film, from the opening tournament to his battles against the antagonists. However, the excessive use of undercranking can be seen as a criticism, as it can take away from the authenticity of the scenes.
Having Wong Jing on board as a member of the script writing team is a rare occurrence, as it usually involves a reduction in pop culture references and a more consistent approach to the plot. However, the film remains uneven with its frequent shifts between comedy, sadness, drama, and action. The drama aspect is heavily reliant on Xie Miao’s character, which can be overwhelming at times. Nevertheless, it successfully builds empathy for the main characters and adds a sense of suspense during the climax, leaving viewers questioning the fate of the family until the very end.
“The Enforcer” presents a unique blend of sentimentality and over-the-top action that Hong Kong viewers are accustomed to, but falls short in connecting them into a cohesive story. However, it is still highly entertaining and likely to please many. With some additional refinement and attention, it could have been a timeless classic. Overall, it is a satisfying action film, but try not to delve too deeply into its underlying themes of childhood trauma.