Monday, January 09, 2017

Real Name: Wah Ying-hung
First Appearance: Golden Daily Magazine (May, 1980)
Fight Club Ranking: #DNR

Featured Fights:
- Yet To Be Featured on Secret Wars on Infinite Earths.

If I had any evidence of The KLF appearing in comic books, this Hero of the Week would've gone very differently. Rumors of the rabblerousing electronic duo's return have been the biggest and most exciting story in my world, bar none. I'm not entirely convinced any of it is true, but a long held desire for their return has me hoping for the best. Their myth-laden, stadium house and ambient adventures could certainly be at home with the "Infinite Earths" of comic books, but I digress...

As noted last week, I've been feeling a little burnt out on Marvel and DC. My Christmas and New Year was a reinvigorating return to heroes of manga and manhua, both on the page, and in live-action martial arts cinema.

I mentioned the 1999 film A Man Called Hero: one of my all-time favourite "comic book movies", if your definition extends far enough. Over the break, I finally replaced a well worn VHS copy with the convenience of DVD. An online sourced, "brand new" disc with a sticker on the cover that boasts playability on the Sony PlayStation 2. An anachronism that speaks to its limited local availability.

The film is loosely based on the Hong Kong manhua (comics) Chinese Hero and Blood Sword Dynasty. Just shy of two hours, it's a period martial arts epic that spans two generations, unfolding through a chain of narrated flashbacks, and concurrent events. So in love with every aspect of the film, I'm reluctant to call it complicated, but any time I find myself enthusiastically recounting scenes, I realize the sheer volume of characters and events I'm assaulting the uninitiated with.

Wah Ying-hung ("Chinese Hero", or Hero Hua, played by Ekin Cheng) is the central character whose exile to America sends his old friend Sheng across the sea from China twice: First with Jade, Hero's pregnant wife - second with Sword, Hero and Jade's sixteen year old son. Each trip to New York City sees Sheng working to reunite Hero with his family, even as sinister forces conspire to cast death upon them.

Plots intertwine as Sheng and Sword revisit the past through Hero's many friends and acquaintances, piecing together his elusive path. We witness his foul treatment on the boat to America, the hardship of working as a labourer at Steel Bull Canyon, his battles against a clan of elemental ninjas, and the disgrace of his master's martial arts rival Invincible.

Before film's end; Hero returns to defeat the racists who run Steel Bull Canyon, and Invincible - who has killed his family, blinded himself, and come to America to challenge Hero for the secret of his master's ultimate technique. Their battle to the death atop the Statue of Liberty is noteworthy for coming a year before Bryan Singer gained attention for his effects heavy climax in X-Men.

Summary hardly does justice to the sprawling film, which makes the most of its genre mashing wuxia. Similar to The Shadow in '94, I really enjoy the way the film distills its various source materials into a single, streamlined, effective movie. I'm reluctant to say it's better than the manhua -- its radically altered and simplified -- but it presents a very strong vision unto itself.

I haven't read as much of the comic as I'd like. Translated to English by DrMaster in 2006 as Chinese Hero: Tales of the Blood Sword, the reprint series starts on a sour note, skipping the earliest chapters in Ma Wing-shing's original opus.

Black & white panels and text are presented as an epilogue to get the reader up to speed, but it's impossible to ignore the frustration of Vol. 1 starting with the journey under way.

I'm given the impression the omissions were at least partly in favour of censoring racist content. Racial insensitivity is a hot button topic in Western culture right now. On the receiving end from afar, I'd much rather have the whole story. Imperial Westerners (and Japanese) often have unflattering roles to play in Wuxia stories, but I'm personally not terribly offended. Usually the content of the story is rooted in broad morality, and as invading forces, I can accept some demonization.

Txabier Etxeberri was able to enlighten me on some of the publishing history of the original publication, which began as a serial in Golden Daily Magazine in 1980, before it became its own printed series in 1982. I might guess that's roughly where DrMaster's version picks up, but detailed information is tough to come by on the web, at least in English searches.

Frustrating as it is to be missing pieces, you can pretty put that aside once the action begins. Mobsters and kung fu are a potent mix under Ma Wing-shing, as colorful characters explode into kinetic fights. Tight inks and painterly colours seem to blend Chinese and colonial techniques. Western influences aren't subtle in the characters, with memorable opponents resembling Mr. T and Apollo Creed.

If, like me, you're a fan of fighting game series like Street Fighter, Streets of Rage (Bareknuckle), Double Dragon, King of Fighters, etcetera -- you'll understand and enjoy what you see. With any luck, we'll get a chance to look more closely at the adventures of Wah Ying-hun, Lohan the monk, and the masked, armless Ghost Servant (Brother Shadow in translation of the film) in future entries. I didn't think we'd do it in HOTW, but here we are!

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