Tiger Angels

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“Toothless tigers.”

It is pretty close to an article of faith that no movie starring Yukari Oshima and Cynthia Khan can ever be entirely worthless. This film, however, shakes that belief to its very foundation. Not least because despite the cover and credits, found just about everywhere (including here), it barely stars them – indeed, Khan doesn’t even show up for the finale, with absolutely no explanation provided. This is included here, mostly as a warning, and because I’m a stickler for completeness with regard to their filmographies. Though in this case, I suspect, I’m less a stickler and more the sucker.

The plotline is…obscure. There’s a gloriously fractured English synopsis here, with sentences such as “Nga Wah finds her husband fevering with a girl.” This includes some information I would never have guessed, such as Khan’s character (Sally in this synopsis, Rose in the film I watched) being the daughter of the department store owner. I figured she was just a hired bodyguard like Oshima/Butterfly (Oshima), with the general manager of the store actually being the owner’s son. So, everything which follows should be taken as less than gospel. Or as gospel, if you’re of an atheist persuasion, I guess.

The plot concerns a department store CEO who is being threatened by the son (Chow) of a former business partner, over a debt supposedly incurred by the father. Rose & Butterfly are brought in to protect him. The store’s manager is also being threatened: he has a wife who is more interested in material goods and their acquistion, than anything else. There’s also a computer salesman who is a dead-ringer for the businessman, and so is hired to take over the business for five days. At first, I thought this was going to end up tying together with the debt, and the look-alike would end up being kidnapped, with Rose & Butterfly going in to rescue him. Never happens: those two angles completely fails to go anywhere near each other.

Indeed, the film has, at most, ten minutes of action. It is, admittedly, not bad action, with both ladies delivering at the level to which we’ve become accustomed. Khan has a particularly good battle around a playground, and Oshima gets her chance to shine in the (inexplicably solo!) finale. However, the rest of the running-time is occupied by crappy attempts at comedy, with hints of romance. This likely reaches its nadir in a sped-up shopping scene, which appears to have strayed in from the reject pile of Benny Hill.

Taiwanese film has long had a bad rep for churning out poorly-made knockoffs of Hong Kong products. Previously, I’ve sometimes wondered where that came from, as I’ve seen a number of entries which, if admittedly cheap, were little if any less entertaining, e.g. The Top Lady of Sword. However, there have been cases where its poor reputation has been entirely justified – Super Cops comes to mind. Largely through being guilty of wanton, wholesale misdirection, this is likely the worst offender I’ve ever seen, and that’s saying quite a lot.

Dir: Sek Bing-Chan
Star: Yukari Oshima, Cynthia Khan, Billy Chow, Chung Kai Cheung

Super Cops

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“Less a review, more of a warning.”

supercopsNot, in any way, to be confused with Jackie Chan/Michelle Yeoh vehicle Super Cop, this one barely has enough action heroine content to qualify here, despite the presence of both Khan and Oshima, who must have been in Taiwan for the weekend or something, and agreed to take on roles of a local cop and a Japanese Interpol agent respectively. Despite a feisty misunderstanding when they first meet, Khan mistaking Oshima for a thief, this is much more about brother and sister Siu-Tong and Chee-Loy, who head to the big city in search of their uncle. They end up getting work in a restaurant, except this brings them into conflict with the local gangsters – fortunately, the brother is kinda good at kicking ass, and this leads to ever-increasing waves of thugs descending on the eating establishment. Really, you wonder why anyone goes there to eat, since it seems barely five minutes goes by without the need to order replacement glass-topped tables.

Meanwhile, Khan and Oshima are seeking to trap heroine dealer Billy Chow, and the two plot strands, which have been so disparate I was seriously thinking this was a pair of films edited together on Godfrey Ho’s day off, finally converge. This happens at an open-air banquet celebrating Chow’s birthday, to which all the characters are somehow invited. Hey, look! More tables through, over and into which people can be hurled! The action is okay in quality – there’s some scampering around a train at the opening which looks genuinely dangerous – yet severely deficient in quantity. Instead, a lot of the running time consists of more or less blatant padding, such as the brother dressing up in drag to ensnare his boss at the restaurant. It’ll have you yearning for the subtle comedic stylings of Benny Hill.

There’s not much point in saying more: I wasted enough time watching this, and don’t feel you should have to waste time too, as I struggle toward the usual word count. Just know that this one is for Khan and Oshima completists only, and even they will find little here worthy of their attention. There’s certainly absolutely nothing super about it.

Dir: Chiang-Bang Mao
Star: Chia-Hui Liu, Ka-Kui Ho, Cynthia Khan, Yukari Ôshima
a.k.a. Huo tou da jiang jun

Angel Terminators 2

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“Angels of death”

angelterm2I have not seen Angel Terminators, so cannot comment on its merits or flaws. However, it does not appear that this impacted my thorough enjoyment of this slice of early 90’s Hong Kong goodness, and nor did the mangled subs which leave me a little vague on some details. The two heroines are Chitty (Lee) and Bullet (Oshima), who are… Cousins? Sisters? Not sure. Bullet has just got out of prison, having turned to delinquency after blaming her policeman father for the death of her mother. He and his partner (Hu) – who adds to the confusion because everyone calls her Big Auntie – try to achieve a reconciliation, but Bullet is unimpressed. She goes to her former gang boss for money, having taken the fall and gone to jail for him, but he just wants Chitty to become a hostess. The fight than ensues, kicks off a chain of events which leads to Bullet stealing some jewels belonging to the boss, who unleashes the accurately-named Brother Mad (Wong).

Will there be mayhem? Yes. Will there by fisticuffs and much gunplay? Yes. Will there be people strung up from lamp-posts like some kind of novelty Chinese lanterns? I’m not saying: I’ll let the film retain some element of surprise. But for all its broad strokes of characterization, it manages to deliver a relatively-even tone, without any of the slapstick and comic interludes which sometimes plague other entries. Indeed, it does become progressively darker, with a kidnapping forcing action that then goes horribly wrong, setting up even further death and violence. This is all accompanied by high-quality action, right from the get-go, starting with Hu leading an assault on criminals holed up in a restaurant, before quickly bringing you a battle between Lee and the leaders of another training squads in a gym, then escalating from there through to a bloody finale.

It’s easy to become somewhat jaded, particularly when you’re watching films because of their genre, without applying any quality control. But then you find a movie like like this, which looks like just another generic action heroine flick, yet instead delivers everything you could want from low-budget action, easily making up for in energy what it may lack in polish. With Lee, Oshima and Hu, you have a hand of three aces, and the film is only a couple of Khans (Cynthia and Michelle, a.k.a. Michelle Yeoh) from having the best cast ever in a HK action heroine film. Unlike some (hello, Avenging Quartet), it lives up to that.

Dir: Lau Chan + Chin-Ku Lu
Star: Moon Lee, Yukari Oshima, Chi Yeung Wong, Sibelle Hu

Kickboxer’s Tears

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“Tears are not enough.”

kickboxersA truly crappy plot here, used to link fight scenes that range from the boring – that would be the actual kickboxing, which greatly outstays its welcome – to the impressive. Li Feng (Lee) is visiting her kickboxer brother in Hong Kong, when he is killed by a cheating opponent, after refusing to take a dive on the orders of Mr Wong (Lung). The death also throws into jeopardy the family training gym/healthcare establishemnt [a crossover at which no-one blinks an eye], which was already financially shaky. To both get revenge, and earn enough money to stabilize things, Li goes to Wong, and demands an underground rematch against his fighter. When that happens, but leaves her opponent permanently paralyzed, Mrs. Wong (Yukari Oshima), who is the victim’s brother, as well as the promoter’s wife, demands a winner-take-all match to the death. And she kidnaps Li’s semi-boyfriend (Lam) to make sure Li  turns up for the contest.

This 1992 Hong Kong film has the same jarring shifts in tone present in many of that time and place. Given the sombre nature of the core situation, there really shouldn’t be any room for slapstick humor – yet there are at least two comic relief characters too many here, and I found myself cringing in just about every one of their scenes. The early action is more than a bit ropey too: while it may be ‘authentic’ kick-boxing, it’s pretty dull to watch, and it’s only when the film moves outside the ring that things become interesting, especially when Lee gets going. She has one great street-fight against a group of thugs, another in a restaurant when she’s proving her worth to Wong as an opponent, and of course, the all too brief duel which pits her – literally, since they’re in a pit – against Oshima. All three are a great combination of inventiveness and hard-nosed action, also showcasing Lee’s great flexibility [there’s also an eye-popping training scene, where her character casually does what is best described as the vertical splits].

However, to appreciate these sequences, you are going to have to sit through story-telling of the most cliched sort, plus acting from her supporting cast that would be rejected as lacking in subtlety by Adam Sandler. Particularly irritating is the finale which has three fight scenes going on at once, cross-cutting between them to the detriment of all three, then robs Li of being able to take her thoroughly-deserved revenge personally, before ending so abruptly, I was left wondering if the final ten pages of script had fallen into a shredder, and the makers decided just to do without them. All these other aspect are significantly sub-optimal, and ten good minutes of action do not sufficiently outweigh them. Especially not when those ten minutes are embedded below, saving you an hour and twenty. You’re welcome!

Dir: Da Wei Shen
Star: Moon Lee, Wilson Lam, Mark Cheng, Lung Fong

Book of Heroes

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“Double-you Tee Eff?”

bookifheroesThe ranking here would probably be at least half a star higher, if I had the slightest freakin’ clue what’s going on here. For this has truly the worst subtitling I’ve seen in a quarter century of watching Hong Kong action films, with text that is entirely illegible more often than not. You’re left trying to piece together the plot, based on fragments of sentences and on-screen action, which significantly subtracts from the entertainment value. Good thing we have the Internet, and can turn to that for a coherent synopsis of proceedings, that will shine some light on who was doing what to whom, and why.

Having learned that the underworld society smuggled a batch of gold, the police authority sent Hu Pai and so on to watch and arrest. But unexpectedly it’s robbed by the 5th Rat of another gang. Therefore, Hu Pai was demoted as a traffic policeman. Hu Pai’s girl friend Little Wild Cat intended to join Royal Police but didn’t know how to get in, and so handled cases often in the name of Hu Pai. One day, when she met the youngest of Five Rats and was ready to arrest him, but was stopped by Risking San Niang. The second boss of Five Rats and Lawyer contrarily accused Little Wild Cat for pretending to be police. The 5th Rat wanted to sell the robbed gold to the 1st boss, but the latter took possession of it and sent Black Baboon to kill the 5th Rat. Before dying, the 5th Rat said “gold drawing, elder sister, fire” Little Wild Cat and Hu Pai started to investigate the 5th Rat’s sister Ever Changing Fox. Fox and her partner Smiling Tiger held the picture of hiding gold. The 1st boss, for the gold, started a chasing fight with Fox, Smiling Tiger and Stupid Rat. They used tricks one another with being extremely ridiculous.

bookofheroes2Well, crap. I was following that, right up to “batch of gold”.

Let me translate and summarize the summary of this Taiwanese action-comedy. What matters, is really that a shipment of smuggled gold has gone missing: the bad guys  led by Yamashita (Kurata) and his top enforcer (Oshima) want it, the police want to stop them, led by the plucky but largely incompetent Hu Pai (Gua Hu) and his cop wannabe girlfriend, Little Wild Cat (Hsin-chuen Lan). There’s also a couple of confidence tricksters – Ever Changing Fox (Yeung) and Smiling Tiger (Tao), if you’re keeping score – who end up collaborating with the cops to that end, though they have their own agenda in mind. Wacky hi-jinks ensue. Fortunately, so does a lot of action. Yeung has been seen here before, in Challenge of the Lady Ninja, Golden Queens Commando and Pink Force Commando, while Oshima’s credentials shouldn’t even need mentioning. Suffice it to say, asses are kicked in some volume, though the undercranking used to speed up the fight scenes is sometimes painfully obvious, and hardly necessary.

But there’s enough good here to balance out the negative aspects. Just don’t make the mistake of bothering to care about the storyline or the characters; in fact, you might as well save yourself a lot of time and just watch the fight compilation embedded below. All of the violence, none of the goofy (and largely unamusing) attempts at comedy, and a good hour saved for you to do something more worthwhile instead. You’re welcome!

Dir: Chu Yen Ping
Star: David Tao, Elsa Yeung, Yasuaki Kurata, Yukari Oshima