Wandering Heroes (1990)

Written & directed by: Chu Yen-Ping
Producer: ?
Starring: Nicky Wu, Alec Su, Banny Chen, David Tao, Peng Peng Lin Shao-Luo

The risk with Chu Yen-Ping's brand of manic Taiwanese cinema is that it can go perfectly right and awfully wrong. Never one to hold back especially when letting himself deal in comedy and kids performing it, it can be Taiwan cinema at its most grating too. While not striking up a dizzying combo of movie tributes and adventure akin to Golden Queen's Commando and Pink Force Commando here , Wandering Heroes provides us with a full plate and Chu doesn't go overboard once he knows he can get farting kid into this mix.

Gathering together a group of kids and young adults (main trio being Nicky Wu, Alec Su & Banny Chen) who've lost who they thought were their parents to the murdering instincts of the Black Hawk Clan, what connects them all is a piece of a treasure map their parents possessed. A scarred clan (literally as they wear masks over horrible burn scars) are after a legendary treasure and the gang tries to intercept them before it falls into the wrong hands...

A movie of contrasts but not as jarring as the comedic opening where we see characters cry over the debts mounting in a game of Monopoly that then cuts to them in full view (again the burn make-up) and a prison break. Chu then takes his time in a valid manner to tell four separate stories before the good gang is gathered up. Alec Su's Hsiu Kai and his father are a kind of Marty McFly/Doc Brown pairing as the skateboarding kid has a backpack of inventions that includes an emergency jetpack and Banny Chen feels like an echo of Tom Cruise in Cocktail so the movie fan/rip off artist (depending on the viewer you are) Chu Yen-Ping is not shy about lifting elements (but not scenes). Key to making this work in a fairly pleasurable way though is attention to energy involving the gadgets, rather dangerous stunts during chase sequences and no lazy dip into loud, grating comedy.

While the somber melodrama, as this involves several sobering deaths, and not giving in to greed being a moral thread is present distinctively, Chu manages to strike a balance of light, some seriousness and Taiwan action style adventure that's fairly low on violence despite the opening. Achieving almost automatic colour via the masked Black Hawk Clan and showing confidence in getting the movie into energetic mode after slower, talkier sections, it is perhaps the fourth story that begins to stall matters a bit.

Although it does involve the lovely Lin Shao-Luo and her kid brother (who has the map tattooed on his ass. Cue flatulence humour) and various action detours making matters akin to a Wuxia pian for stretches, there is somewhat restlessness here but once getting veteran David Tao to lead the gang, their pimped out vehicles ready for 'Mad Max' style action, the movie finds a footing and even its greed-thread pays off in a respectful manner. Chu had that on his mind but also veteran skill to make the frame alive at almost all times.



reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson