The Heroic Trio / Executioners

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Synopsis

The star power of cinema icons Maggie Cheung, Anita Mui, and Michelle Yeoh fuels these gloriously unrestrained action joyrides from auteur Johnnie To and action choreographer Ching Siu-tung. The Heroic Trio and its sequel, Executioners, follow a new kind of justice league: a team of blade-throwing, shotgun-toting, kung fu–fighting heroines who join forces to battle evildoers in a dystopian, noirish city. Blending dazzling martial-arts mayhem with exhilarating blasts of comic-book lunacy, these beloved superhero movies reimagine the genre through the giddy genius of the Hong Kong film industry at its height.

Picture 8/10

The Criterion Collection brings Johnnie To’s The Heroic Trio and its sequel Executioners to 4K UHD, presenting both films on a triple-layer disc in the aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The 2160p/24hz ultra-high-definition presentations are sourced from new 4K restorations and are presented in 10-bit SDR.

Approaching these releases with wary enthusiasm due to Media Asia’s varied track record with restorations, I was pleasantly surprised to find that both films look pretty impressive on the format, albeit with some imperfections. Overall, the presentations boast sharp and clean visuals with solid detail, complemented by a healthy level of grain. However, occasional softer shots are scattered throughout both films, part of which can probably be attributed to instances where filtering has been slightly applied, smoothening the image and reducing grain, most notably in highlights. I suspect this is inherent to the master provided to Criterion, as this can be a common occurrence in Hong Kong film restorations.

There are also moments where it’s clear the softness is baked into the original photography, with the image looking a little out-of-focus. There are even instances where it’s clearly related to the condition of the materials, like an incredibly dupey-looking sequence in Executioners where a head in a box is revealed; this sequence looks to have been sourced from a very late-generation theatrical print.

Artifacts aren’t too significant of a concern, though a couple of shots present grain that appears sharpened, delivering a more digital appearance. On the other hand, one of the releases' most impressive aspects is how the colors are rendered, particularly in the first film (the second is a bit darker by design). The colors look very vibrant with lifelike hues. Reds, yellows, blues, and greens are vividly rendered, while black levels are deep with rich shadows. Smokey interior shots—which there are plenty of—also look natural and clean, with light blending cleanly and naturally within the settings. It’s an absolute shame HDR isn’t present, yet despite its absence, the color range still looks reasonably broad.

Although there is room for improvement, both films ultimately look good in this 4K presentation, offering a visually satisfying viewing experience.

Audio 7/10

Criterion includes three audio tracks for both films: a Cantonese monaural soundtrack (both in single-channel PCM), a Cantonese 5.1 surround soundtrack (both in DTS-HD MA), and an English monaural soundtrack (2-channel Dolby Digital for The Heroic Trio, single-channel Dolby Digital for the sequel).

To my surprise, all three sound reasonably good. Dialogue sounds flat across all of them, which isn’t a shock (they’re all dubs), but the overall presentations still sound sharp and clear, with both the film’s audio effects and music delivering a modest level range. The two Cantonese soundtracks don’t sound too dissimilar, with the surround presentation simply spreading some music and effects to the other channels. Though there are some decent moments regarding the twirling action and use of echoes, the surround mix isn’t all that creative.

The English dubs can sound harsher than the Cantonese tracks but are still okay overall. Since the quality of all three is quite good, it will come down to personal preference.

Extras 3/10

Features prove to be incredibly underwhelming, to say the least, with only a couple of new interviews alongside trailers for each film. The first Blu-ray disc (featuring The Heroic Trio) first features an 18-minute interview with film critic Samm Deighan, who takes the time to explore the film’s roots in wuxia before talking about the film’s stars and its fight sequences. She also takes the time to place the movie in the context of the period in Hong Kong, with the Handover approaching, addressing how the plotlines of each film play off of some of the anxieties.

It's a good summary, though it could have been expanded into a commentary. I also liked the new interview with actor Anthony Wong on the second Blu-ray alongside Executioners. However, it’s painfully short at 7 minutes, only leaving the actor to recall his work on both films vaguely.

The essay by Beatrice Loayza included in the poster insert is a decent read, expanding on Deighan’s comments and touching on the Hong Kong film industry in the early 90s.

Again, what’s here is fine, but there is much more to explore, and it all feels like an afterthought.

Closing

As a special edition, it's lacking, but the new 4K presentations look nice.

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Directed by: Johnnie To
Year: 1993 | 1993
Time: 88 | 97 min.
 
Series: The Criterion Collection
Edition #: 1207
Licensor: Media Asia Film
Release Date: February 20 2024
MSRP: $59.95
 
4K UHD Blu-ray/Blu-ray
3 Discs | BD-50/UHD-100
1.78:1 ratio
Cantonese 1.0 PCM Mono
English 5.1 DTS-HD MA Surround
Cantonese 5.1 DTS-HD MA Surround
Subtitles: English
Regions A/None
HDR: The Heroic TrioNoneExecutionersNone
 
 New interview with actor Anthony Wong   New interview with film critic Samm Deighan (cohost of the podcast Twitch of the Death Nerve Trailer for The Heroic Trio   Trailer for Executioners   An essay by critic Beatrice Loayza