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We normally aim to keep things PG-13 rated here, but occasionally we will slide over the line to the territory of ‘Not Safe For Work’. This would be one of those times. We’ll say no more, except that Ride of the Valkyries will never seem the same again. In case you’re curious – Fleggard are a chain of Danish supermarkets.

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Taking the Heat

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“Because the more accurate, Taking the Luke-warm, wouldn’t exactly fly off the shelves.”

Michael Norell (Goldwyn) sees mob boss Tommy Canard (Arkin) whacking a debtor, but won’t admit it to the cops. However, when they look at the credit-card transactions, the truth comes out and Detective Hunter (Whitfield) is sent to retrieve the witness; Canard, thanks to a mole, also finds out and send his top hitman to ensure Norell never reaches the courthouse. A heatwave has simultaneously hit New York, leading to blackouts, gridlock and a breakdown in communications, so it’s down to Detective Hunter, back on her old stomping ground, to negotiate her way through the traffic jams and dodge the killers out to get Norell.

The IMDB states this 1993 film is a TV movie. Some language and one brief nude scene seem to argue against that, but with some minor trims, it could certainly play on television, and there are some aspects, such as the Patrick Williams original score, which appear straight out of TV-land. The story is hardly novel – Midnight Run is perhaps the best-known example of the ‘Protect the irritating witness’ thriller, and if you’re looking for a distaff version, In the Line of Duty IV has more martial-arts, courtesy of Cynthia Khan and Donnie Yen, than you could possible want. This isn’t up to the level of either of these, and barely scrapes by as an acceptable way to waste ninety minutes on a wet weekend.

The film does occasionally get away from the pedestrian, but the potential inherent in the scenario, as the city swelters and boils in the heat, turning into an urban jungle, is largely wasted. There are some moments which work quite nicely, such as Hunter and Norell picking their way through a booby-trapped drug den, but it’s largely predictable stuff, with the heroine and her charge initially bickering like cats and dogs, then – over the course of a mere few hours – falling for each other. For most of this, I couldn’t help thinking, Whitfield is no Pam Grier – though in her defense, few people are, and she does well enough, I suppose. If there’s nothing else on TV, it’ll do.

Dir: Tom Mankiewicz
Star: Tony Goldwyn, Lynn Whitfield, Alex Carter, Alan Arkin

Lethal Panther

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“And then there’s the (Godfrey) Ho…”

Things we learned from this movie:

  • Being a prostitute is a healthier career for women than being an assassin – “unless the men have AIDS”.
  • Your neighbours will never call the police, even when a lengthy gun-battle breaks out on your property.
  • The CIA operates openly on American soil, and has apparently replaced the Secret Service in investigating counterfeit money.
  • The best way to give a woman an orgasm, is to fill a condom with milk, prick a hole in the end, and squirt it onto her panties. Who knew.

Any questions? In the loopy world of Category 3 Hong Kong films, which cover pretty much every bizarre scenario imaginable, Lethal Panther remains on the outer edge. I’m not quite sure how the makers got someone with a decent track record like Sibelle Hu to appear: I suspect she was sent a script for a completely different movie, probably entitled Lady Super Cop Goes to Manilla or something, since she only has about two scenes with the other lead actresses. I would imagine that her reaction, on seeing the finished product, must have been something similar to that experienced by Helen Mirren at the premiere of Caligula – and was presumably followed by a stern note to her agent the next morning.

The story centers on two assassins, one from Vietnam (Yuen), the other from Japan (Miyamoto), hired to come to the Phillippines and kill the head of an underworld gang that’s making a killing with counterfeit dollars. They’re employer is the boss’s nephew, who wants to take over operations: when that mission is accomplished, he then turns the two hit-women on each other, to tidy up the loose ends. They end up injured and recuperating at the home of a friendly prostitute, where they discover they are not so different. However, fate intervenes, in the shape of one’s brother, who returns from France. Meanwhile, a CIA agent (Hu) is looking into the funny money, and when her target is gunned down at a wedding, switches her attentions to the killers.

The formula here is straight-forward: an action scene about every ten minutes and some gratuitous nudity every twenty. And when I say ‘gratuitous’, I mean it; the last item listed in the first paragraph counts as the most bizarre use of dairy products Chris or I have seen in a very long time [Chris is floating Carmen Electra’s milk-bath in The Chosen One as a credible contender, but I don’t recall the specifics there]. None of the other sex scenes reach quite the same level of insanity, but they give the film a sleazy quality that it probably would have done better without.

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The action is even more copious than the nudity however, and not bad, though one suspects a fair amount of doubling for the main actresses is going on. Despite Ho’s reputation as a complete hack [some of his films consist entirely of footage spliced together from other movies], he knows the right buttons for action heroine fans, and how to push most of them. On what I strongly suspect was a poverty-row budget – you don’t go to the Phillippines for the scenery – the movie delivers an impressive quantity of action, mixing firearm-toting and martial-arts battles to decent enough effect. All of the actresses get their moments to remember: a massacre in a restaurant and a supermarket shoot-out stand out in particular, as well as the roof-top fight between Hu and Yuen shown on the left.

Y’know I just mentioned the poverty-row budget? Perhaps the area this stands out in most is the soundtrack, which appears to be a combination of stock music, and cues ripped wholesale off from other movies. Ho is far from the first Hong Kong director to do this [I still remember my jaw dropping when a chunk of the Heathers soundtrack showed up in Flying Dagger], but you really wonder, at what point did it seem a good idea to lob John Carpenter’s theme from Halloween into the mix for one scene? And, no, the moment in question does not involve a masked maniac stalking sexually-active teens – albeit probably only because Godfrey Ho didn’t think of the idea. Or, more likely, stored it away for an entire feature on this theme.

It would be easy to dismiss this as exploitative crap. Very easy, and you wouldn’t necessarily be wrong, either. But it kept us entertained, even if a good chunk of the amusement was to be found in the steady stream of sarcasm directed at the screen by Chris and I, as the more ludicrous aspects unfolded. Still, Ho clearly possesses absolutely no pretensions to be anything above what he is, and delivers a B-movie experience that we likely will remember for some time, especially when we head past the milk in the supermarket.

Dir: Godfrey Ho
Stars: Yoko Miyamoto, Maria Yuen (as Maria Jo), Sibelle Hu, Alex Fong
a.k.a. Deadly China Dolls

Offside

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“Come and have a go, if you think you’re hard enough.”

Being an action heroine is a rebellious, possibly revolutionary, act against society: what counts, depends entirely on how your society views women. Going to a soccer game, for example, would not qualify you in the Western world – but as in Ancient Greece, sporting events in Iran are strictly male-only, and a woman who attends one and gets caught, will find herself handed over to the Vice Squad. It redefines requirements somewhat, to say the least. The film tells the story of a number of women, who dress as men to sneak into a crucial 2005 World Cup qualifier between Iran and Bahrain, only to find their disguises imperfect. They’re held in an area, just out of sight of the game, by a group of soldiers, who really have better things to do themselves.

There’s a beautiful documentary feel; Panahi fooled the authorities into letting him film at the stadium, during the game depicted, by submitting a fake synopsis to authorities (this might have partly led to them refusing permission for the movie to be shown in Iran) and let the outcome determine the end of his film, which may partly explain the somewhat lacklustre ending, feeling in need of a more definitive conclusion. Filmed with non-professional actors, we don’t even know the names of the women, but quick, expert strokes, still give them character, from the tomboy to the wallflower to the one who plays football herself; their only connection is a love of the game and their country, which has led them to break the law. Yet the film is also sympathetic to the provincial soldiers, who would rather be watching the game themselves, and despite the radically-different society, the humanity of everyone involved is Panahi’s main concern.

Particularly outstanding is Irani’s tomboy, who becomes the de facto leader of the group, and continually hassles the guards. The film has a surprising amount of straight-faced humour, such as her riposte when asked if she’s a boy or a girl: “Which do you prefer?” Or one girl’s response when told they can’t go in because the men will be cursing: “We promise not to listen.” Similarly, when another needs to use the bathroom, this poses problems, since naturally there are no women’s facilities. The solution involves the impromptu conversion of a poster into a mask, though this hardly resolves things. Obviously, it’s not a traditional genre piece, and it’s this inaction which stops it from getting a seal. It is, however a fine piece of cinema, regardless of whether you appreciate football or not.

As for why it’s here, the director describes the women as having “entered a forbidden space before the law has given them permission to do so. They don’t have that permission yet, but they’ve gone ahead and entered the territory anyway. They’ve overturned the rules.” That’s what lifts this film into inclusion on this site: it’s about women, refusing to conform to subservient roles enforced on them, and whose behaviour confounds such expectations. Earlier in 2005, seven people were killed in an accident at the same stadium, after a game against Japan: the newspapers only published six photos, and it’s rumoured the seventh was a woman who had snuck in to the game. You can certainly argue, but in their own way, those depicted here are ‘action heroines’ every bit as much as Sarah Connor or Ellen Ripley.

Dir: Jafar Panahi
Star: Shima Mobarak-Shahi, Safar Samandar, Shayesteh Irani, Ayda Sadeqi