Year of release: 1996

Company: Golden Tripod

Genre: martial arts

Running time: 97 mins.

Director: Siu Sang

Action director: Kam Wu

Producers: Cheung Chung Ping, Kam Wu

Stars: Yuen Biao, Athena Chu, Elvis Tsui, Eddy Ko Hung, Lily Chung, Yvonne Yung Hung

Rated IIA for violence

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The Hero of Swallow

Hero of Swallow

This enjoyable old-school flavored and wire-fu powered martial arts movie stars the under-rated Yuen Biao as Thief Swallow, a Robin Hood-type character who steals from the rich as he searches for his girlfriend Chinny (Athena Chu), who was sold into prostitution. During his journey, he picks up a couple of sidekicks (Elvis Tsui and Lily Chung) which is good, since he is being chased by both a cop (Ma Chung Tak) and one of the last Ching officers (Eddy Ko Hung). It seems Eddy's boss is stealing Ching treasures and selling them to the Japanese, and wants to use Swallow as a patsy, so after being arrested Swallow must fight to clear his name and save the valubales.

Fitting for the reciprocal world of Hong Kong movies, Hero of Swallow borrows liberally from Iron Monkey, and seems to have provided at least some inspiration for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The results here, unfortunately, aren't as good as either of those movies. Early on, Hero of Swallow falls prey to heavy melodrama which tends to grind the pacing down. It's hard to really feel sympathy for characters you barely know, especially when the "touching" scenes are sandwiched between really exaggerated wire-fu antics and the usual badly-attempted slapstick comedy.

Hero of Swallow

I always wonder why films like this go for those kinds of laughs; this is all the more puzzling here, since Yuen Biao has more than enough personality to make his performance enjoyable without resorting to cheap laughs. At any rate, Hero of Swallow seems to be stuck in-between being a comedy, a drama, and a action movie, without really gelling into a cohesive unit. The most obvious example of this comes at the end of the movie, which has a really downbeat turn that seems tacked on.

Still, Hero of Swallow remains a watchable film, mostly because of Yuen Biao's performance. The supporting cast (especially Elvis Tsui, who managed to stay clothed for this role) also does well, but it is Yuen who holds the movie together through its' schizophrenic pacings. The action is fairly exciting, though some of the wire effects looks cheap, and Yuen never really seems to find a formidable opponent to fight. But overall, it's not totally detrimental to the film. Hero of Swallow is just missing that little something, that little push that would turn it into a great movie instead of a good one -- but it's still worth a look if you're a Yuen Biao fan, or just enjoy some good old-fashioned wire-fu ass-kicking.

Hero of Swallow