She’s On Duty

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“Cinematic candy-floss; hardly memorable, but pleasant enough.”

This frothy concoction is light-hearted entertainment, which doesn’t exactly pack much of a wallop, but has some nice characters and situations. Heroine Chun (Kim), is a young cop, galled when her undercover mission is swept away by a rival; she gets another chance, but to her dismay, this involves going back to school to watch the daughter (Nam) of a gang member who has agreed to testify against his boss, but has since vanished. Of course, a hot-tempered cop with martial arts skills fits perfectly into a Korean educational establishment, as anyone who has seen Volcano High will know…

Actually, though, this is closer in tone to My Wife is Gangster in its “fish out of water” story – another close cousin would be Stephen Chow’s Fight Back To School series. You could probably reel off the plot elements before watching it. Chun takes on the local tough girl (right), is attracted to another pupil (Gong), and finds her mission in peril when the previous nemesis also turns up, as a “teacher” at the school. Dealing with all this, while still keeping her cover intact, is an interesting challenge – not least when her teacher finds her drinking in a bar, and a classmate thinks she moonlights as a call-girl.

For a 115-minute film, this moves by effortlessly enough, but one can’t help thinking of the missed opportunities here. For example, her battle against the school bad girls is shown only in lead-up and aftermath, proof that the film’s interests lie in the comedic more than the action arena. That’s a bit of a shame, because in the two main set-pieces, which bookend the film, Kim shows some nicely balletic grace – as well as pulling some excellent faces throughout the movie. It’s all entirely unthreatening, but is well put-together, and you won’t feel like you’ve wasted your time by watching this.

Dir: K.C. Park
Star: Kim Seon-Ah, Gong Yoo, Nam Sang-Mi, Park Sang-Myeon

Come Drink With Me

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“Good, but don’t believe the hype.”

Perhaps I was expecting too much, after reading reviews that described this as, “one of, if not the, greatest martial arts film of all time.” It’s not, at least, not from my perspective, with a storyline that is sparse and badly-finished; the heroine and chief villain vanish before the climax and there’s absolutely no resolution, with the film suddenly diverting into a battle between a pair of supporting characters. It’s a shame, as Cheng Pei-Pei [the Jade Fox of Crouching Tiger was once a very intense teenager] deserves better. She plays Golden Swallow, the sword-adept daughter of the Governor, who is sent to rescue her brother after he’s kidnapped by bandits who want to exchange him for their leader.

The action is a mixed bag; there are some very bad effects, which jar the viewer out of an appreciation of the real, almost balletic, physicality, easily appreciated through the long tracking shots. These are as much dances as fights – Cheng had being doing ballet since she was eight. Less effective is the alcoholic beggar Drunken Cat (Yueh), who wanders through the storyline, with his band of ragamuffins, bringing things to a grinding halt when they appear. Of course, it’s giving little away if I say he turns out to be a martial arts master with entirely his own agenda, but unfortunately, that’s where the film heads, the further things go on.

Poor Golden Swallow is all but abandoned, and that’s a shame: the scene where she sits calmly in a tea-house, as the villains work at gauging her skills, is a masterpiece of suppressed, yet inevitable violence, up there with the best moments of Sergio Leone. There’s also a very odd subplot in which Swallow is initially mistaken for a man; it’s so utterly implausible as to make us wonder if it was a subtitling mistake. And maybe it was, for half-way through, this is discarded without explanation. It’s unsatisfying, and adds to my feeling that, while I can see the influence of this 1966 movie, it’s a case where later entries that build upon the foundation, do a better job.

Dir: King Hu
Star: Cheng Pei-Pei, Yueh Hua, Chen Hung-lieh, Yeung Chi-hing