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And then there's the (Godfrey) Ho...
Lethal Panther [a.k.a. Deadly China Dolls]
Dir: Godfrey Ho
Stars: Yoko Miyamoto, Maria Yuen (as Maria Jo), Sibelle Hu, Alex Fong
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.
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.
The player will show in this paragraph
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.
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