Executioners (Yin doi hou hap zyun) (4K UHD)

Director: Johnnie To & Ching Siu-Tung
Screenplay: Susan Chan Suk-yin (story by Sandy Shaw Lai-king)
Stars: Michelle Yeoh (Invisible Girl / Chan San / Ching), Anita Mui (Wonder Woman / Tung), Maggie Cheung (Thief Catcher / Chan Chat), Damian Lau (Commissioner Lau), Anthony Wong (Mr. Kim), Anthony Wong (Chan Gau), Takeshi Kaneshiro (Chung Hon), Lau Ching-wan (Tak)
MPAA Rating: NR
Year of Release: 1993
Country: Hong Kong
The Heroic Trio / Executioners Criterion Collection 4K UHD
The Heroic Trio

Executioners (Yin doi hou hap zyun) is the same-year sequel to the bizarro fantasy-sci-fi-kung-fu-horror smash-up The Heroic Trio (Dung fong sam hap), and it is an overall better film if only because it is so much more visually and tonally consistent. Of course, in the world of Hong Kong action extravaganzas that is not necessarily a virtue, and if anything goes is your aesthetic of choice, you could do much worse. I found much more to appreciate in the the formal and tonal coherence in Executioners, although it is in, its own way, just as gonzo in its approach.

Although it reunites the three protagonists of The Heroic Trio—Chan San, also known as Invisible Girl (Michelle Yeoh); Tung, also known as Wonder Woman (Anita Mui); and Chan Chat, also known as Thief Catcher (Maggie Cheung)—Executioners takes place in a post-apocalyptic world of desolation and political strife. While ostensibly set the same dystopian city-state we saw in the first film, there is no real explanation as to what happened in between, not that such an explanation is really needed. The post-apocalyptic setting gives the film a more coherent look, as it leans heavily into industrial claustrophobia, smoky darkness, and heavily armored vehicles with enormous tires. The setting also fits better with the film’s plot, which involves various power brokers taking advantage of the scarcity of clean drinking water for an increasingly desperate population.

Caught in the middle are the three protagonists, some of whom have moved on from their previous identities and some of whom have dug in even deeper. In the former category is Mui’s Tung, who has given up her alternate identity in exchange for motherhood and a stronger commitment to supporting her husband (Damian Lau), who has advanced from being a police detective to police commissioner, where his responsibilities involve maintaining the peace when it feels like all of society is on the verge of collapse. Yeoh’s Chan San is still trying to make amends for the damage she caused in the first film when she was under the control of the film’s villain, while Cheung’s Chan Chat is still happily self-employed as a sarcastic, largely self-interested bounty hunter.

Co-directed by Johnnie To and Ching Siu-Tung, the latter of whom served as the stunt coordinator on The Heroic Trio, Executioners boasts more than its share of slam-bang action sequences, all of which defy to some degree or another the laws of physics, but somehow feel more grounded due to the grittier nature of the mise-en-scene and the moody cinematography by Hang-Sang Poon (Crime Story, Kung Fu Hustle). The three leads are just as good as they were in the previous film, and the script by Susan Chan Suk-yin (from a story by Heroic Trio writer Sandy Shaw Lai-king) gives them some room to grow, especially Cheung’s Thief Catcher, who serves primarily as comic relief in the first film, but here expands into a more fully realized character with an actual arc. Of course, you don’t come to a film like Executioners looking for character depth and thematic coherence, but it doesn’t hurt to have some to leaven all the chaos.

The Heroic Trio / Executioners Criterion Collection 4K UHD / Blu-ray Three-Disc Set

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 (both films)
  • Cantonese Linear PCM 1.0 monaural (both films)
  • Cantonese DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround (both films)
  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround (both films)
  • SubtitlesEnglish
  • Video interview with actor Anthony Wong
  • Video interview with film critic Samm Deighan
  • Trailers
  • Essay by critic Beatrice Loayza
  • DistributorThe Criterion Collection
    Release DateFebruary 20, 2024

    Criterion’s three-disc set includes The Heroic Trio and Executioners on a single 4K UHD disc and then a separate Blu-ray for each film. Both films have been given new 4K transfers from the original 35mm camera negative in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio. (Criterion did not do the transfer themselves, and there is a notable elision in the liner notes in which the aspect ratio is not described as “original theatrical aspect ratio” since it clearly is not.) The image, especially on the 4K UHD, looks very good, with bright, bold colors, strong detail, and a solid contrast that shows little in the way of artificial boosting. Those expecting super-crisp sharpness that looks more modern will be disappointed, as the film-like image has a definite softness to it and is notably grainy in some instances, but that is very much in keeping with the original celluloid look of an early-1990s mid-budget Hong Kong film. Each film offers the choice of three soundtracks: a Linear PCM 1.0 monaural track in Cantonese, a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track in Cantonese, and an English-dubbed monaural track (2.0 Dolby Digital for The Heroic Trio and 1.0 Dolby Digital for Executioners). All three options sound good (I would steer clear of the English dub, although I appreciate its inclusion for comparative purposes). The soundtracks have the kind of post-production artificiality we have come to expect from this genre of film (even in the Cantonese language versions), but they work with the material. The six-channel mix opens things up nicely and creates some decent surround effects. As for supplements, there isn’t much here. Each film has a trailer, and we also get an 18-minute video interview with cult film critic Samm Deighan, who helps to contextualize the films (he makes one wish he had recorded audio commentaries), and a too-short 7-minute interview with actor Anthony Wong, who discusses his work on The Heroic Trio, as well as working in the Hong Kong film industry in general.

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    Overall Rating: (3)

    James Kendrick

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