ANGEL OF VENGEANCE (1993) short review

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Liu Sung Pai’s Angel of Vengeance is two films rolled into one: a revenge thriller where Yukari Oshima looks for her sister with the help of Alex Fong and Alexander Lo Rei, only to find she’s been sold to a brothel by a mob boss played by an unhinged Chung Fat; and a rapesploitation drama in which a student writing a thesis on “love and lust” decides to research life in a brothel (operated by her mother) by dressing up (unconvincingly, of course) as a man. The two subplots are connected by the fact that Yukari’s sister has been sold to the same brothel that the student is trying to infiltrate. Unfortunately, the revenge subplot, which opens the film with two excellent fights where the Japanese action queen fights off a dozen henchmen, and closes it with a ridiculous but entertaining action finale where Chung Fat and his formidable blind henchwoman (played by Tu Kei Hua) start flying and moving at the speed of light and Alex Fong pulls a bow and arrow out of nowhere (in what has been, so far, a grounded and realistic film) only gets a third of the film’s runtime, with the rest spent on the implausible and exploitative ‘brothel research’ subplot. And there it’s a series of gratuitous rape scenes, scored sometimes with jaunty music, other times with melodramatic music, and other times yet with horror music. What an ugly little film. *

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CLOSE ESCAPE (1989) short review

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Tung (Michael Miu) is a cop whose cancer gives him only a few months to live. Determined to leave his younger brother Leung (Max Mok) with enough money to go study medicine in the United States, and unable to do so on his meager cop salary, he robs diamonds from smuggler Chiu (Dick Wei), who has him killed and has Leung framed for murder. The latter can then only count on the help of his cop friend Ben (Aaron Kwok) and Miko (Yukari Oshima), a mysterious Japanese journalist. Chow Jan Wing’s Close Escape was Aaron Kwok’s big screen debut, shot at a time when he was just a jobbing actor in TVB shows, and was just about to break out as a singer. It’s a competent but wholly routine Hong Kong thriller that spends too much time on its efficient but bland plot and some clunky melodrama, while keeping the fine, Philip Kwok-choreographed fighting to the final ten minutes. Still, the housebound finale is a delight, especially when Yukari Oshima and Dick Wei trade kicks with immaculate precision and unmistakable power. **

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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BURNING AMBITION (1989) review

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Frankie Chan’s Burning Ambition transposes the plot of Kinji Kukasaku’s The Shogun’s Samurai (1978) to modern-day Hong Kong, with striking results. A Triad boss (Roy Chiao) is thinking about his succession : his elder son Wai (Michael Miu) is an irresponsible womanizer, and so he chooses his more level-headed and business-savvy younger son Hwa (Simon Yam). He’s killed the same evening in a drive-by shooting secretly organized by his brother Hsiong (Ko Chun Hsiung), who’s consumed by the titular burning ambition, and has made Wai his protégé. This triggers a fratricidal war as two camps are formed within the extended Triad family : on one side, the boss’s widow (a steely Seung Yee), the chosen heir Hwa and his trusted uncle Kau Chen (Eddy Ko) ; on the other side, Hsiong, his puppet Wai, his two loyal daughters Tao (Yukari Oshima) and Hong (Kara Hui), as well as his exiled son Chi-Shao (Frankie Chan), who comes back to Hong Kong to assist his father, not knowing, just like his sisters, what treacherous strings Hsiong has been pulling. It all escalates in a series of bloody acts of vengeance.

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THE OUTLAW BROTHERS (1990) short review

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James and Bond (Frankie Chan and Max Mok) are professional luxury car thieves who get caught between a mobster (Kong Do) who wants to exploit their gift, and a cop (Yukari Oshima) who’s bent on arresting them, with the help of her lovestruck underling (Michael Miu in a fun turn). Though the title suggests a focus on Frankie Chan (who also directs) and Max Mok’s characters, the latter is very often sidelined in favor of Yukari Oshima’s character and her cat and mouse flirting with Chan. The plot, or lack thereof, wanders aimlessly, springing the great Michiko Nishiwaki as a kind of black widow in the last 30 minutes, and breaking its lull of tame comedy with an impressive action finale in, wait for it, a warehouse. But The Outlaw Brothers is mostly a showcase for Oshima, who displays not only charisma and lightning moves, but also a lighter side that her often brutal roles at the time didn’t show, and the same goes for Nishiwaki, who doesn’t fight much but is gleefully flamboyant. Frankie Chan and Max Mok may be the outlaw brothers, but Yukari Oshima and Michiko Nishiwaki are the reasons to watch The Outlaw Brothers. **1/2

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

IRON ANGELS (aka ANGEL) (1987) short review

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The first in a trilogy of Girls With Guns films (with only Moon Lee and Alex Fong being in all three films), Teresa Woo’s Iron Angels – which was actually directed by Ivan Lai, according to martial arts choreographer Tony Leung Siu Hung – follows a group of mercenaries (the titular ‘Angels’) composed of Saijo Hideki, Moon Lee and Elaine Lui and headed by a suave David Chiang, who team up with an Interpol agent (Alex Fong Chung Sun) to stop a vicious drug trafficker (Yukari Oshima) who is murdering police officials left and right. The film echoes Charlie’s Angels not only with its title and premise, but also with its cheesiness and general lack of tension. An inordinate amount of time is spent on flirting, pouting, and eye-gouging fashion statements. Still, when it comes to the action there’s a few outstanding moments, especially a final fight between Moon Lee and Yukari Oshima (who eats up the screen as the black widow villain) that is so brutal that it contrasts with the relatively tame proceedings up to then. Ingenuous Moon Lee and slinky Elaine Lui complement each other nicely, though one can tell the latter, in only her second film, was not yet the accomplished screen fighter she’d become in the following decade. **1/2

MILLIONAIRE’S EXPRESS (aka SHANGHAI EXPRESS) (1986) review

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Though Sammo Hung Kam-Bo as a director is better known for his films showcasing the mighty trio of Jackie Chan, Yuen Biao and himself, his filmography as a director/screenwriter/actor includes a gem of a film that is not nearly as famous and celebrated as it should be : Millionaire’s Express, a crazy hybrid of martial arts film, western and comedy, a combination later applied by Jackie Chan in Shanghai Noon and Shanghai Knights, but executed here with more ambition and creativity. In the film, Sammo plays Ching, a man who once brought great misfortune on his hometown by blowing up the dam that supplied it with water. After a few years of exile and run-ins with the law, he returns home with a plan to make things right : he will sabotage the nearby railway so that the “Millionaire’s Express”, a luxury train, will be stopped, and its wealthy passengers will have to go to the town and spend money there. That’s only the tip of the iceberg, as many subplots emerge, including the prostitutes Ching has brought along with him (including Rosamund Kwan), the head of security of the town (Eric Tsang) who’s also an arsonist and a bankrobber, Japanese swordsmen (including Yasuaki Kurata) who carry a mysterious map, a gang of outlaws who plan to rob the train (including Richard Norton and Cynthia Rothrock), a man who desperately tries to cheat on his wife (Richard Ng), and a fireman who has the responsibility of the security of the town thrust upon him (Yuen Biao). And I’m still omitting some for the sake of brevity.

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SUPERCOP 2 (aka PROJECT S) (1993) review

After having taken a 5-year break from 1987 to 1992 to dedicate herself to her mariage with producer Dickson Poon, Michelle Yeoh made a triumphant comeback as Jackie Chan’s female counterpart in Police Story 3 : Supercop. She made such an impression in it, more than holding her own in the fight scenes next to Chan, that her character in that film, Mainland police officer Jessica Yang, got her own spin-off the following year : Supercop 2 (also known as Project S). When her boyfriend David (Yu Rongguang) decides to leave for Hong Kong to try and make a better living, Jessica Yang refuses to go with him, out of dedication to her work as a police officer. Later, she is herself called to Hong Kong to help fight against a huge crime wave in the city. What she doesn’t know yet is that David has crossed over to the other side of the law and is one of the masterminds behind this crime wave.

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