SPECIAL FEMALE FORCE (2016) review

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Wilson Chin’s Special Female Force is a loose remake of Wellson Chin’s (not the same guy) The Inspector Wears Skirts, following a dozen sexy young women who enter a stringent boot camp where they bond in the hardships of training and flirt with the male team, before being thrust into their first mission, to stop a terrorist – who twenty years ago decimated the previous iteration of the Special Female Force – from spreading a deadly virus. Tiny subplots from the original films (there were four of them) also crop up, like the male instructor’s crush on the female one (Ken Lo and Jade Leung step in for Stanley Fung and Sibelle Hu), but on the whole Wilson is largely rebooting Wellson’s concept, while adding an unfortunate layer of teary drama on top of it. The Inspector Wears Skirts were no masterpieces, but they knew their place and remained jokey displays of eye-candy with some hard-hitting action thrown in. Special Female Force is plagued by tragic subplots that lead to cringe-worthy moments of tone-deaf emotional acting from the main cast. Philip Ng has a few scenes and a few spin kicks as an ungrateful boyfriend, in another soap-worthy little nugget of plot.

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ANGEL FORCE (1991) short review

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The final film of Hua Shan, whose largely unremarkable filmography nevertheless includes one of the Shaw Brothers’ best Wu Xia Pian (the superb Soul of the Sword) and one of its craziest sci-fi films (Infra-man), Angel Force is not to be confused with Li Chao’s Mission of Condor, which came out the same year under the same title in some countries, and also featured Moon Lee and Fujimi Nadeki. The generic plot involves two cops (Moon Lee and Wilson Lam) and an army veteran (Hugo Ng) who get recruited to rescue an American hostage held in the Burmese jungle by a renegade general (Johnny Wang Lung Wei). After an uninvolving start and a few excruciatingly cheesy family scenes, Angel Force gets going and delivers efficient, briskly-paced jungle action (scored to Basil Poledouris’ The Hunt for Red October soundtrack), from a short but thunderous throwdown between Moon Lee and Fujimi Nadeki, to a tense and fairly exciting exfiltration scene that ends with a fight with the fearsome Johnny Wang Lung Wei and an impressive helicopter stunt. Then the film keeps going to wrap up its loose ends, losing steam and dropping a thudding, predictable twist on the audience. Still, Yuen Bun’s action is brutal and unfussy, and amid all the bland characters, Hugo Ng cuts a charismatic contrasted figure as tough, reliable vet with dark impulses. **1/2

An Interview with Actor-Stuntman-Director Bruce Fontaine

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Bruce Fontaine was once a Gweilo actor, that is to say one of those Caucasian performers who were hired in Hong Kong’s action cinema heyday to play – often villainous – supporting parts. A high-level practitioner of Wushu, he appeared in some of the most famous films of that time: Operation CondorOnce Upon A Time In ChinaShe Shoots Straight… But when the well of classic Hong Kong action dried up, his career endured, as he took the knowledge acquired from working with the likes of Jackie Chan, Corey Yuen or the Sammo Hung stunt team, and applied it to a career in Canadian stuntwork, quickly rising through the ranks to become a stunt coordinator, including for American Video Game developer Electronic Arts. And yet his main ambition remained unfulfilled: to direct a feature film. In 2015, he kickstarted the third phase of his film career by completing and premiering Beyond Redemption, an action thriller infused with the soul of Hong Kong action cinema.
From martial artist and Hong Kong film fan to Hong Kong film fighter, from stuntman to director, his is a story of wish-fulfillment through hard work and passion. Now in the preparatory stages for his second feature film, Bruce Fontaine was kind enough to answer my questions.

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ANGEL TERMINATORS II (1993) review

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Tony Liu’s Angel Terminators II came out a year after Wai Lit’s Angel Terminators but the only thing the two films have in common is a producer, Georges Lai’s Grandwell Film Production. Other than that, the cast, crew, creative team, characters and general tone are entirely different. The Hong Kong film industry had always had a loose definition of sequelizing, but this is one of the more puzzling title choices. Bullet (Yukari Oshima) just came out of prison after taking the fall for her scummy triad boss (Karel Wong). She is welcomed by her childhood friend Chitty (Moon Lee) and their group of friends, as well as by her estranged cop father (Jason Pai Piao) and his loyal but hot-headed partner (Sibelle Hu, hideously decked in a piss-yellow tracksuit). Bullet aims to get a fresh start in life but things quickly go back to hell when she beats up her former boss who threatened to make Chitty his prostitute, and when one of her friends is drugged and abused by a fake casting agent.

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CRYSTAL HUNT (1991) short review

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Shot in Thailand and probably back-to-back with 1992’s Cheetah on Fire which has the same cast and crew, Hsu Hsia’s Crystal Hunt opens on a short and brisk action scene featuring Leung Kar Yan and Gordon Liu (who do not appear again afterwards) that has nothing to do with the plot and serves only to pad out the film’s short runtime. Which tells you everything you need to know about its ambitions. Carrie Ng is the daughter of a terminally ill businessman, whose last hope is a legendary healing crystal hidden deep in the Thai jungle. With her boyfriend (Ken Lo), she tasks a scientist (director Hsu Hsia) with finding the crystal. But the scientist is apprehended by a team of mercenaries (headed by Donnie Yen’s gweilo collaborators John Salvitti and Michael Woods), and soon his daughter (Fujimi Nadeki) goes looking for him with the help of two cops (Donnie Yen and Sibelle Hu). Despite an impressive lack of narrative competency, Crystal Hunt is never boring thanks to a healthy serving of action choreographed with budget-defying skill by Donnie Yen’s team. And everybody in the cast is playing within their comfort zone : Carrie Ng is domineering and slightly insidious, Donnie is badass and a bit puerile, Sibelle Hu is a cute woman of action, Ken Lo is a tool who kicks high… It’s all quite familiar and comforting, if mediocre and unchallenging. **1/2

YES MADAM 5 (1996) short review

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With its title, Lau Shing’s Yes Madam 5 positions itself clumsily as part of a kind of franchise whose first two intallments are also (and mostly) known as In the Line of Duty 2 and 3 (in 1985 and 1987 respectively). Then comes Yes Madam 92: A Serious Shock in 1992, then a Taiwanese Yes Madam in 1995, which brings us one year later to Yes Madam 5. One has to wonder if making this the fifth film in such a vaguely delineated franchise was such a clever move. Of course it doesn’t really matter, as the only connection between most of these films is Cynthia Khan playing a cop (which she did in 90% of her filmography anyway). By 1996 the Girls With Guns genre was quickly dying away, as was Khan’s career : and indeed Yes Madam 5 is a sad sight. Barely sustained by a plot too mundane to dignify with a summary and constantly mired in a horribly dated synth score, it wastes most of its runtime on numbingly procedural scenes and a patience-trying love triangle, all the while botching its few action scenes with shoddy editing that constantly re-uses the same shots of kicks and punches to artificially draw out the fights. The always watchable Cynthia Khan, along with familiar faces like Chin Siu Ho, Philip Ko (who also directs the action), Billy Chow or the steely Sharon Yeung (a wasted talent if there ever was one), help make the whole thing look professional, but in the end the 85 minutes are a chore to get through. *

IRON ANGELS 2 (aka ANGELS 2) (1988) short review

Angel-II-1988 The very first directorial effort of Stanley Tong, who went on to become one of Jackie Chan’s directors of choice with films like Police Story 3 : Supercop and Rumble in the BronxIron Angels 2 sees the the return of the titular “angels”, elite mercenaries played by Moon Lee, Elaine Lui and Alex Fong, with the notable absence of David Chiang who played their boss in the first film but with the notable addition of Kharina Sa, a strikingly stunning panther of a woman with no backstory and little dialogue. This time they’re vacationing in Malaysia, where they meet Alex’s lifelong friend Peter, who’s become a wealthy businessman. But just as Elaine starts to fall for him, the Angels realize that he’s actually a wannabe-dictator with a small army of his own, and that they have to stop him. Similar to the first film, Iron Angels 2 features surprisingly little action for much of its runtime, a fact that is disappointing considering this is a film so crudely plotted that the villain’s evil ambitions are revealed with a scene of him watching archive footage of Hitler. But again like the first film, it all ends with almost half an hour of intense action, in this case a relentless Rambo-inspired jungle-set action scene, with Alex Fong carrying out a one-man ambush on dozens of soldiers, Moon Lee taking on Yuen Tak (who also choreographs the action) in a furious fight, and Elaine Lui gunning down henchmen while hanging from a zip line. It’s a superbly bombastic and exciting piece of action directing and fearless stuntwork (witness Moon Lee’s un-doubled narrow escape from an exploding watchtower, the lady has guts), a reward to the audience for sticking through one hour of fairly uninvolving drama. **1/2

THE INSPECTOR WEARS SKIRTS 4 (1992) review

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This is the final film in an enjoyable but trashy film series that had used up its thin concept by the first installment, then rehashed it for a second film, before injecting a big dose of craziness for the third episode. And so it comes to The Inspector Wears Skirts 4, with the only returning cast members being Sandra Ng, Kara Hui and Billy Lau, as well as Wung Fu in the role of the superior officer. A botched operation has led to the disbanding of the female commando : Sandra Ng has become a widow and overbearing single mother, Kara Hui has entered a mental institution after a nasty fall left her nuttier than a Pecan log, and Billy Lau is now a school supervisor, and has married Sheila Chan after a short fling with Sandra that ended in near-castration. A new female commando has been formed, headed by Moon Lee, but is found to fall very short of its tactical objectives, which is why Sandra and Kara are called back, and a tough cop and instructor, played by Cynthia Khan, is brought in to whip them back into shape.

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THE AVENGING QUARTET (1992) short review

51DKD1ZDVKL There are few films in the genre of Hong Kong action films more misguided than Stanley Siu Wing’s The Avenging Quartet. Its plot, about a Mainland cop (Cynthia Khan) who comes to Hong Kong to look for her boyfriend (Waise Lee) with the help of a kind but ass-kicking Hong Konger (Moon Lee) and a overeager cop (Chin Kar Lok), only to find out he is involved in the theft of a priceless painting that he’s about to sell to Japanese gangsters (among whom Yukari Oshima and Michiko Nishiwaki), is neither better nor worse than the average screenplay in the Girls With Guns sub-genre. Its title is misleading because the four actresses never join forces, but misleading or over the top titles were commonplace at the time. No, the film’s hugely grating shortcomings are the following : it sets itself up as a tough action film, but is content to just noodle around for more than an hour, as Cynthia Khan and Moon Lee plays video-games, go shopping and look for Waise Lee ; it casts Yukari Oshima and Michiko Nishiwaki, two smouldering, statuesque and charismatic actresses, only to give them about 15 minutes of combined screen time ; and most jarringly, it suddenly breaks up its fairly light tone to feature an ugly rape and torture episode that is completely out of place. The final 10 minutes finally deliver on the film’s promise by having the four actresses fighting each other in a house on fire, and it’s a suitably intense and brutal finale, but it’s simply too little, too late. *1/2

RAID ON ROYAL CASINO MARINE (aka THE INSPECTOR WEARS SKIRTS 3) (1990) review

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Following a successful first film and an even more successful second film that was basically a carbon copy of its predecessor, Raid on Royal Casino Marine finally mixes up the Inspector Wears Skirts formula. After spending the last two instalments silently longing for her, instructor Kan (Stanley Fung) is now married to Madam Wu (Sibelle Hu), who has retired but not mellowed : to keep fit she always rope-climbs to her hilltop house, and she’s managed to train her housemaid into a killing machine. When the Hong Kong police decides to mount an operation against an illegal gambling operation aboard a cruise ship, five members of the decommissioned female commando (returning actresses Sandra Ng, Kara Hui and Amy Yip plus new additions San Yip and Wong Wai Kei) are brought back into action to infiltrate the ship, but not before they get whipped back into shape by instructor Kan. As with the previous films, the training is actually closer to an escalating series of pranks between the instructor, his scapegoat/assistant (returning Billy Lau from the previous films’ male squad, which doesn’t return), and the five girls. The training ends more quickly, as the film segues into a God of Gamblers rehash (the immensely successful Wong Jing film had come out shortly after the release of The Inspector Wears Skirts II) for a saggy middle section. Then as the ship gets hijacked by its own captain (Michael Chow, who had a different role in the first film in the series), the film gets its obligatory yet perfunctory action finale (in which Kara Hui is unfortunately underemployed) : the Jackie Chan stunt team doesn’t return, and it shows.

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