Angel on Fire

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“Dumb but not irredeemable – never mind the quality of the action, look at the quantity!”

Supermodel-thief Mimi (Melanie Marquez) steals an artifact from a Chinese temple, then heads to the Philippines, via Hong Kong. HK and Chinese cops (Khan & Yeung) are on her tail, as is former partner Ko. This is, frankly, a mess. Yeung apparently does no detective work; Khan goes on a date to an illegal street fight; they’re supposedly partners, but only share one scene; and what is the stolen item? It’s only ever called “the precious thing” (at least in the sub version; even we wouldn’t touch the dub [right] with a ten-foot pole). I found it all amusing rather than irritating; your mileage may vary…

Actionwise, it largely explodes in the lengthy finale which occupies about thirty minutes, sprawls across what seems like most of the Philippines, and fails to make much sense either – we certainly lost track of who was doing what to who. While Yeung is hardly allowed to act, she does get a couple of good fights, but the wire-work is poor, with one especially obvious harness. On the other hand, Khan’s martial-arts abilities are underused, and she gets to spend time hanging out with that apparently rare breed, an honest taxi-driver (Ricketts). A couple of decent moments, and Khan’s usual watchability, lift this up to just about acceptable, though only if you are in a forgiving mood.

Dir: Phillip Ko
Star: Cynthia Khan, Philip Ko, Sharon Yeung, Ronnie Ricketts

The Magic Crane

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“Plotplotfightplotfightplotfightfightplotfight.”

This is one of those Hong Kong movies which seems to believe that if they cram in enough complications and characters, you’ll overlook the deficiencies. They’re kinda right: if you can let go (I did, Chris couldn’t), you will enjoy this a whole lot more, though here, it’d take five times as much plot to make you ignore the truly woeful titular bird. There would seem to have been confusion in the prop department over whether the request for a “giant crane” meant a bird or a piece of construction equipment: it looks as if they split the difference, building something with feathers, which remains (painfully) obviously mechanical.

All the kung-fu masters are getting together to carve out territories; Leung and Lau represent about the smallest school imaginable, but are befriended by Pak Wan Fai (Mui), a mysterious lady who rides the crane. Her foster-sister (Kwan) has been building resentment for 20+ years, and inevitably, someone else is plotting to wipe out all their martial-arts rivals. The battles are great, and most of the characters too (among the supporting cast, especially memorable is Jan Lau’s engagingly slutty Lady Jade Flute, who brings a Basic Instinct approach to her kung-fu) – but there are way too many, and the same goes for the plot elements (Killer bats? A guy with no legs in a well?). Less would certainly be more; instead, they don’t get the attention they deserve. As you’d expect from a Tsui Hark production, the visual side is stylish and impressive – just don’t look for a high degree of coherence.

Dir: Benny Chan
Star: Tony Leung, Anita Mui, Rosamund Kwan, Damian Lau

Fatal Termination

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“No kids were harmed in the making of this film. Fingers crossed, anyway.”

At first, this isn’t much of anything, least of all an action heroine movie. Cop Simon Yam investigates a customs officer (Shou) who is smuggling guns; it’s pretty ho-hum until an innocent underling is killed after finding evidence of the crimes. When his sister Moon (Lee) and her husband (Lui) get involved, this swiftly leads to the one scene in this film that everyone remembers…

The villains snatch Moon’s daughter off the street (literally!), and drive away with Mom on the bonnet, trying to fight her way into the car. The daughter – who is probably about 2 1/2 – is dangling out the passenger window, held by her ponytail, as they whizz through Hong Kong streets. This is impossibly impressive CGI (especially for 1990), and I suspect they genuinely did hang a frightened toddler out the window of a speeding car… At the bottom of the page, you’ll find a clip which gives you an idea of what we mean, from an era where traumatising small children was apparently not an issue of concern. It’s one where you go, “Well, they’re only showing it in clos… Oh, damn. Okay, at least they’re not going faster than 15 mp… WHAAAAAAT?”

This kicks off an amazingly intense 15 minutes in which, without giving too much away, things get even worse for the daughter. :-( It belies both the opening, and a finale that’s little more than a lot of people driving around, shooting at each other. Moon Lee has a cool fight against the big boss, and gets to fire off some large weaponry, but the one who truly deserves to be called an action heroine in this film, is that un-named little girl.

Dir: Andrew Kam
Star: Ray Lui, Philip Ko, Moon Lee, Robin Shou + the unknown toddler

Kim Possible: A Sitch in Time

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“Somewhere between Alias, Buffy and The Powerpuff Girls lurks Kim…”

“I’m working with a man named Monkey Fist. My evil career is so in the toilet!” Thus complains one villain in the first Kim Possible movie, a relentless barrage of sight gags and dry humour likely to amuse those of any age, whether regular viewers or not. We probably fall into the latter category, having a natural aversion to the Disney Channel [if you’ve seen the Lilo & Stich series, you’ll understand], but KP is a show likely to pause our channel surfing. Kim is a teenage girl who spends more time saving the world from a range of bizarre bad guys and gals, than the usual pursuits involving the bathroom, phone or mall (if our daughter is anything to go by). Her parents are remarkably cool about these extra-curricular activities. In this edition, the bad guys team up to grab a time-travel device and alter the future so they can rule the world. It’s up to Kim and friends to restore things. [Should mention the title is as given, “sitch” being Kim-speak for situation, as in “What’s the sitch?”]

It does remain a Disney show, hence the irritating musical interludes and, while the action is fast and furious, no-one ever gets hurt – though the sequence where a naked mole-rat comes out of a kid’s trousers is frankly freaky. But assisted by a stellar supporting cast (Elliott Gould, Michael Dorn, Dakota Fanning, Michael Clarke Duncan, Vivica A. Fox and – slightly less stellar – Freddie Prinze Jr.), this is a great parody of the whole genre: as one character says, “Time travel – it’s a cornucopia of disturbing concepts.” The tongue-in-cheek self-awareness is a delight, both heroes and villains having a refreshingly world-weary attitude, cheerfully admitting the paradoxes inherent in the story. Even an evil, golfing, kilt-wearing Scot comes over as endearing rather than insulting – Mike Myers, please note. The expected fluff blends with some surprisingly dark moments, such as the “Re-education Center” which seems right out of 1984. This is what the Tomb Raider movies should have been like.

Dir: Steve Loter
Star: Christy Carlson Romano, Will Friedle, Richard Gilliland, Nicole Sullivan