In the mood for a film where the hero gets his ass beaten down more times than Ralph Macchio in The Karate Kid and bawls more often than Tammy Faye Baker? How about a film where the titular character appears for less than 20 minutes total and hardly utters a word? If so than Chinese Hercules is the film for you!
Wai-Man Chan plays Shen Wei (according to IMDb) although in my badly dubbed version it sounds more like Chung Sun. I’ve also seen him referred to as Lee Hsi. Evidently the man has more names than Puff Daddy. Chan’s character is not the titular Chinese Hercules. Not even close. The man who will be henceforth referred to as “our hero” probably weighs less then 110 pounds soaking wet. But his lack of mass and musculature is well-compensated for by his overwhelming cowardice and torment, resulting from the time he killed his fiancée’s brother using his “hands made of blood.” Upon realizing how deadly a weapon his fists were, our hero disappeared faster than Donald Trump’s hairpiece in a wind tunnel, vowing never to raise his fists of fury in battle ever again.
He escapes his village and attempts to start a new, more peaceful life as a dock worker in a coastal town. He certainly doesn’t want any more trouble, but to paraphrase Frank Zappa, there’s just no way to delay trouble’s comin’ everyday. And in this case trouble arrives in the form of the controller of the pier, the chain-smoking, ever-smirking Boss Chan. Chan makes a deal with the syndicate. They want exclusive rights to the pier and demand the workers gone pronto – no severance and no two-week’s notice.
For want of a Norma Rae, the dock workers are helpless and have nowhere to go. Hence, they are forced to submit to repeated beatings by the nefarious boss and his henchman. Our hero wants to help his friends and even half-heartedly steps in a time or two, but his guilt and sheer wussiness are stronger than his desire for self-preservation. As a result, he gets his ass whupped repeatedly, taking more beatings over the course of the film’s 90 minutes than famed-jobber Iron Mike Sharpe took throughout the entirety of his wrestling career.
Usually in films such as this, the protagonist gets pushed and pushed until he just can’t take it any more. Usually. But not our hero. The little guy is such a pacifist (wuss), he makes Mahatma Gandhi look like John Rambo. I lost count of how many times he appears ready to finally throw down but instead woefully stares at his fists and weeps like a baby before literally running away like a little bitch.
So just who is this Chinese Hercules? “The First and Only Muscle-Mad Monster of the Martial Arts” is played by the great Bolo Yeung. The former Mr. Hong Kong and star of Enter the Dragon and Bloodsport is Boss Chan’s chief henchman: a bone-cracking, head-crushing, body-breaking, one-man wrecking crew. Bolo and his sweaty pecs finally appear in the last act of the film to lay some serious smack on the poor, beleaguered dock-workers.
They attempt to take down Bolo (who for some reason has always reminded me of Garry Shandling) using the ancient Chinese fighting technique of let’s-attack-him-one-person-at-a-time, but it’s hopeless. Bolo crushes their puny little heads like so many ripe nectarines. Our hero, ready to run away once more, is goaded by his ex-fiancée who reprimands him for being such a big baby. “You may die,” she says, “but at least you’ll die a man!” Finally, our hero steps in and the big boss battle is on!
It’s an ok fight as far as big boss battles go (let’s face it – Wai Man Chan is no Bruce Lee) but it is notable for the Cigarette Flick of Doom. As Bolo and our hero throw down, Boss Chan sits on the sidelines, smirking and smoking as is his wont. Our hero has Bolo on the ropes and is about to drop a barrel on him when Boss flicks his cigarette at our hero, ever-so barely grazing his forehead. This heinous act, rendered in super slow-motion, is so devastating it causes our hero to drop the barrel and gives Bolo time to recover and get a few more licks in.
In the end, our little hero, probably while continuously chanting to himself “I think I can” manages to defeat the big bad Bolo and Boss Chan to boot. The remaining dock workers are able return to their lives of common toil and drudgery in peace.
Chinese Hercules, unfortunately, does not live up to the gleeful promise of its title. The Hercules is barely in it, the head-crushings are bloodless, and the hero does more bawling than brawling. Not terrible, but could have been so much better.
** (out of five)