Legendary director Chang Cheh decided to create a new ensemble of performers in the early 90s. Based on his famous Venoms team, these ‘Baby Venoms’ were created with talented Mainland performers and made far away from the Shaw Brothers studio which, by now, had long since stopped making movies to the same extent as their heyday. ‘Hidden Hero’ is a remake of one of the more esoteric Venoms films, ‘Life Combat’, and comes eleven years after the original.
Blacksmith Mu is trying to lead a quiet life away from the perils of the martial world; at his height, Mu was a legendary weaponsmith who forged swords for the most dangerous fighters in the area. The past, however, soon catches up with Mu as numerous newcomers arrive in the peaceful town, determined to get the master craftsman to return to his famous work. Despite refusing all offers, Mu finds himself sucked into the intrigue once again as the area is swamped by warriors searching for a priceless jade antique. Mu must make new alliances to extricate himself from the madness around him as the twists and turns multiply.
One of the most pertinent critiques of ‘Life Combat’ was that it was too convoluted to fully engage with. The hope that ‘Hidden Hero’ clarifies matters is soon dispelled fifteen minutes in as, after a promising opening, it tapers off into clan politics. That in itself isn’t such a problem – Chu Yuan made some of the great genre pieces based around labyrinthine worlds – but when it is executed in such a pedestrian way, it is difficult to care about the events on the screen. That Chang Cheh vitality is massively lacking in ‘Hidden Hero’; the story ambles on with very little desire to involve the viewer, something that would have been unforgivable for Cheh during even his lesser Shaw Brothers works.
Mainland China was gradually sharing some top talent with their neighbours during the early 90s. The cast of ‘Hidden Hero’ has shown, in other productions, that they have the skills to impress. Yet in this uneventful flick, not only do they have little chance to impress with the action, but they are woefully lacking in their dramatic responsibilities too. These grandiose genre films should be larger than life and full of interesting and often eccentric characters. ‘Hidden Hero’ is nothing more than functional, unlikely to ignite any excitement in even the biggest Chang Cheh fan – as someone who would happily put themselves in that category, ‘Hidden Hero’ was a severe disappointment.