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For Executioners (1993), the sequel to The Heroic Trio (1993), Johhnie To returned to the dirctor’s chair, though this time he shared duties with Ching Siu-tung. Ching Siu-tung, best known for his film A Chinese Ghost Story (1987), brings a darker atmosphere to Executioners. The film is a kind of balancing act between To’s superhero shenanigans and comic book style and Ching Siu-tung’s pulpy sensibilities. The juxtaposing impulses of the filmmakers work in tandem to keep Executioners from being a stylistic retread of The Heroic Trio.

Unlike The Heroic Trio, Executioners is a post-apocalyptic adventure film set in a world ravaged by nuclear war where water has become the most precious and essential commodity. Wonder Woman (Anita Mui) has become a stay at home mother to her daughter. Invisible Girl (Michelle Yeoh) works for the government protecting water shipments from thieves and organized crime. Thief Catcher (Maggie Cheung) has become a bounty hunter, selling her skills to the highest bider no matter what their motives. Though all three friends seem to be moving along different paths, they must unite in order to stop the masked Mr. Kim from seizing control of the government.

The dystopian future is rendered beautifully by production designers Chan Pui-wah and Catherine Hun which lends a gravitas to the already operatic narrative. The look of the film reflects the overall darker tone of the plot. Unlike The Heroic Trio, death and sacrifice are the central motifs of Executioners. Though in Executioners the “evil” that the heroes face is a political construct rather than a metaphor for shared trauma as in the previous film.

Executioners is in no way a wholly serious affair. The film is very self-aware and more than willing to make jokes at its own expense. But Executioners is at its best when it embrace the tropes of superhero comics. As was the case with The Heroic Trio, the sequel feels more like a comic book brought to the screen than any of the Marvel or DC films of the 21st century. When Executioners isn’t selling the desperation of a dystopian future its all pure camp. There is a scene where the trio all bath together and another where the villain ponders whether he and Wonder Woman could be friends because they both wear masks. These are moments that would feel right at home in one of Joel Schumacher’s Batman movies from just a few years later.

Ultimately, Executioners never outshines the original The Heroic Trio. Ching Siu-tung’s involvement in Executioners accounts for why it is so visually and tonally unique from The Heroic Trio though that may also account for the lower energy of the film. However, the lesson one can learn from this little franchise is more relevant now than ever; sequels should be drastically different from their predecessors.