‘Zero to Hero’ Review: Biopic of Hong Kong Paralympic Champion So Wa-wai

Hong Kong’s Oscar submission is an entertaining and heartwarming biography of So Wa-wai, the national sports hero who won 12 medals at five Paralympic Games from 1996 to 2012. Focuses on the powerful bond between the disabled runner and his mother fiercely devoted, “Hero” injects just enough gritty drama over the champion’s financial and emotional battles to prevent the story from being overwhelmed by a sweet sentiment generously applied elsewhere. The first solo-directed film by the writer “Love Off the Cuff “Jimmy Wan clinched gold in Hong Kong cinemas in August and will likely be the silver medalist behind” Anita “as the highest grossing local film of the year.” Hero “has sprinted on Netflix in the United States and other territories on November 5.

Following the conventions of the sports biographies of the first frame, Wan’s film opens with the athlete known as “Wonder Boy” posed on the starting blocks at the Beijing 2012 Paralympic Games. Barely a TV presenter he asked breathlessly if this would be So’s ‘last run for fame’ as the action returns to Guangzhou, 1981, and a boy is born with hemolytic jaundice causing cerebral palsy and severe hearing loss.

The beginnings are bleak, starting with the vital surgery to save baby So’s life. Struggling for years to cope with a child who may never be able to walk or eat properly, his working-class mother (Sandra Ng) pulls So (Choi Tin-lok) onto his back and keeps him in a cage in steel while she works. in a dirty factory. In the film’s most extraordinary scene, the exasperated mom places the child So on a treadmill that will lead him to certain death unless he can come back to her. “Walk right now or let’s die together, she yells before hitting the stop button at the last moment and collapsing into virtual hysteria. A few brazenly manipulative seconds later, So manages to pull herself up onto a railing and take her first hesitant steps.

Here, and at nearly every other emotional pivot point, the soundtrack swells with heavenly harmonies provided by the 65-member Hong Kong Children’s Choir. Young people create beautiful sounds but their voices are too often solicited, and sometimes to the point of irritation.

The tone is much lighter when we next catch up with So (Fung Ho-yeung) as a determined 13-year-old who has speaking, writing, and mobility skills that once seemed unattainable. After watching So pass a gang of bullies in their overcrowded apartment building, mom takes the light-footed boy to train with trainer Fong (Louis Cheung), a former Paralympian with a trio of attractive runners in his stable.

“Hero” goes well as So meets the likable guy Gai (Mak Pui-tung), eccentric Keung (Yeung Wai-lun) and Train Tung (Tony Wu Tsz-tung), a hothead with “problems” whether So is up to the task. With mom constantly by her side and offering inspiring words like “instead of crying hard, run hard” then rise to the occasion and begin her successful career as a member of the Hong Kong 4 × 100m team. Atlanta gold medalist, 1996 Aside from some wobbly CGI of the Olympic arena background, Wan recreates So’s many triumphs on the track with creative camera work and incredibly crisp editing .

The strongest sections of the film deal with the economic and emotional realities facing the adult So (Leung Chung-hang). After his father (Chin Siu-ho) suffers a debilitating injury, So is forced to give up training and work as a courier to support his struggling family. The huge gap between what Paralympians and Olympians receive for winning medals is highlighted in enthusiastic public statements from Mom, which demands “equal pay for equal work“. When she secures sponsorship deals through sports agent Victor (comedian Luk Wing-chen, appearing by his nickname Wing6), So discovers how difficult and sometimes humiliating it can be to keep her dream of race alive. Hardest of all for So is her thwarted romance with Coach Fung’s daughter, Gill (Chung Suet-ying), who has been a kind and loyal friend since she was a teenager. When So finally finds the courage to state his true feelings, Gill’s brutally honest response is “you are not the man of my dreams.”

Although the characters, including So’s father and resentful little brother Kin-wai (Locker Lam), receive far too little attention and several scenes that start off firmly end up slipping into overripe melodrama, ” Hero “is kept on track by excellent primary performance. Theater actor Leung is compelling and moving as an athlete who just loves to run as fast as he can (he still holds the 100 and 200-meter world records in the men’s T36 division). Also serving as the film’s producer, the distinguished veteran Ng (“Portland Street Blues”, the “Golden Chicken” films) commands the screen with a passionate turn as a mother who sometimes has to exercise the toughest love to get through. his son both on and off the track.

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