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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THE BARE-FOOTED KID (1993) review

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The Bare-footed Kid is unique in Johnnie To’s filmography in that it is his only period martial arts drama, and judging by its quality one can regret he didn’t work more within that genre. In this loose remake of Chang Cheh’s Disciples of Shaolin, Aaron Kwok plays a penniless orphan who seeks out the help of his late father’s friend (Ti Lung), a renegade general who now works under a fake identity in a dyeing factory headed by a kind widow (Maggie Cheung) whose commercial success hinges on a professional secret. They provide the kid with a roof, a job, and most importantly in his eyes, shoes. But when he takes part in a fighting tournament, his impressive martial arts abilities draw the attention of a corrupt official (Eddie Cheung) and a ruthless competitor in the dying business (Kenneth Tsang). He also falls in love with a pretty school teacher (Wu Chien Lien), whom he begs to teach him how to write his name. But soon his naive, suggestible nature and misguided attempts to help his benefactors precipitate a tragic turn of events as he finds himself torn between the lure of power and his devotion to the people who care for him.

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ROSA (1986) review

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Joe Cheung’s Rosa is a buddy movie produced by Sammo Hung, that pairs the perennially underrated Yuen Biao (who also directs the action) with singer-actor Lowell Lo, with a script (though as often for Hong Kong films of the eighties, ‘outline’ would be a better word) by Wong Kar Wai. But despite that interesting pedigree, it doesn’t truly stick out from the mass of Hong Kong comedies of the decade. Yuen and Lo play cops who get on their superior officer’s (Paul Chun) wrong side but get a chance to redeem themselves by locating a police informant who has critical evidence against a local gangster (James Tien, not exactly cast against type). Their main help in finding him is his girlfriend Rosa (Luk Siu Fan), a model with whom Lo falls in love, while Yuen himself becomes romantically involved with Lo’s sister (Kara Hui). All those feelings, plus the two cops’ constant bickering, slows down the investigation to a crawl, until the gangster decides to take action.

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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

THE OWL VS. BOMBO (1984) review

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Sammo Hung’s The Owl vs. Bombo (also know as The Owl vs. Dumbo or The Owl vs. Bumbo, if you like fascinating film trivia) revolves around two retired robbers, the gentleman-thief type Owl (George Lam) and the more straightforward and bumbling Bombo (Sammo Hung). A year after their respective last heists, they’re contacted by a Chung (Stanley Fung), a cop who has evidence of their crimes and blackmails them into becoming partners to complete two tasks : to expose a gangster’s (James Tien) real estate fraud, and to assist two social workers (Deannie Yip and Michelle Yeoh) in rehabilitating juvenile delinquents. Mirroring the two tasks, this is a film of two halves, featuring light tension and a (very parsimonious) sprinkling of action when the reluctant duo try to bring down James Tien, and a fairly cheesy redemptive vibe when they try to give the delinquents reason to hope and the will to straighten their lives. The film follows both strands lazily, until they are joined in a finale that, while short and not quite memorable, is the only real fight scene of the film.

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TOUGH BEAUTY AND THE SLOPPY SLOP (1995) short review

5132J64CRFL._SS500_ With its pairing of a stern Mainland police woman and an affable Hong Kong cop, who stage a prison break to infiltrate a drug trafficker’s gang, Yuen Bun’s Tough Beauty and the Sloppy Slop (its original title refers to a kind of speedboat) is a not-too-subtle rehash of Police Story 3, with cheaper alternatives to Jackie Chan and Michelle Yeoh in the lead roles. In step Yuen Biao, a hugely underrated actor who was at the nadir of his career at the time, and Cynthia Khan, who had already stood in for Yeoh in the In The Line Of Duty series, and whose career was waning quickly by 1994. Indeed this is a cheap film, and while it flashes a lot of familiar, welcome faces besides its leads (Waise Lee, Yuen Wah, Alan Chui who directed the action, and Billy Chow all appear), it is so derivative, loosely narrated and – more damningly for this kind of production – light on action, that it’s hard not to be sorry for Yuen and Khan, who turn in game performances despite having little chemistry together, but deserved so much better. Their short final fight against Billy Chow (scored with Elliot Goldenthal’s Demolition Man score) is the only worthwhile scene in an otherwise flabby little actioner. *

RISE OF THE LEGEND (2014) review

ROTL-FINAL REGULAR-A3-poster_S It’s been 17 years since the folk hero Wong Fei Hung last graced the big screen, in Sammo Hung’s Once Upon a Time in China and America in 1997. Now, as most hits of the nineties are given the reboot treatment, from the ancient legends of The Monkey King to the edgy streets of Young and Dangerous, it seemed obvious that the Chinese martial artist, physician and revolutionary, as well as hero of over 100 films, would make a comeback. Surprisingly, this comeback wasn’t handled by Tsui Hark, who with Flying Swords of Dragon Gate showed a willingness to revisit his earlier films, but by Roy Chow, director of two interesting but sometimes misguided films, Murderer (2009) and Nightfall (2012). This is, as the impressively bland title suggests, an origins story, and it follows Wong Fei Hung (Eddie Peng) both as a kid learning valuable life lessons from his father Wong Kei Ying (Tony Leung Ka Fai) and being scarred forever by his death in a criminal fire, and as a young man infiltrating a ruthless gang led by the formidable Lei (Sammo Hung, who also produces), who controls the docks of Canton, owns opium dens and sells slaves to the usual evil Gweilos. Wong is helped by his childhood friends (Jing Boran, May Wang and Angelababy), but many sacrifices await him.

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ANGEL TERMINATORS (1992) short review

Angel_Terminators_dvdcover One of only two films directed by Wai Lit, most of the time a supporting actor in Category III films, Angel Terminators is representative of the more violent and dark variety of ‘Girls with Guns’ films. In a fairly simple plot (no surprise here), it follows the fight to the death between tough policewomen (Sharon Yeung, Kara Hui, Cheng Yuen Man), and a brutal mob boss (Kenneth Tsang) back from exile in Thailand and his henchmen (among whom Alan Chui, Dick Wei and Michiko Nishiwaki), with Carrie Ng as a woman with ties to both sides. Angel Terminators benefits from no-nonsense direction, well-staged – if hardly remarkable – action scenes, and a truly charismatic cast: Sharon Yeung has a steely presence that should have allowed her to do better than end her career in Godfrey Ho cheapies, Kenneth Tsang essays one of his classic scumbag roles, Michiko Nishiwaki is formidable as always, though her smouldering presence is underused, and Kara Hui, while absent for a long stretch, is always a joy to watch. It’s a tough, somber film that takes startlingly unpleasant detours (Carrie Ng’s character goes through an almost overwhelming amount of torment), and speeds violently towards an unforgiving ending, with a striking final shot. ***

GHOST PUNTING (1992) review

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The fifth and penultimate instalment in the Lucky Stars series, Ghost Punting reunites Sammo Hung as portly and well-meaning Kidstuff, Eric Tsang as borderline retarded Buddha Fruit, Charlie Chin as wannabe-womanizer Herb, Richard Ng as occult-obsessed Sandy and Stanley Fung as misanthropic Rhino Hide. These five jobless, hapless and horny losers, who share an appartment and an ever-thwarted goal to get laid, encounter the ghost of a man who’s been murdered by his wife’s lover, a violent mob boss. They report it to their old friend officer Hu (a cameoing Sibelle Hu, back after My Lucky Stars and Twinkle Twinkle Lucky Stars), who assigns a squad of beautiful lady cops (headed by Elaine Lui) to get proof of the paranormal encounter. As the ghost is seemingly visible only to them, the five losers use him to cheat in games of poker, and in return help him exact his revenge.

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DEADEND OF BESIEGERS (1992) short review

600full-deadend-of-besiegers-cover A Mainland Chinese production, Cheung Sing Yim’s Deadend of Besiegers differs from most martial arts films of the time in a few ways, most notably in that it is a fairly old-fashioned film that has none of the wild angles and choreography in vogue at the time in Hong Kong cinema, and is actually reminiscent of an Shaw Brothers or Golden Harvest film of the late seventies. It stars Yu Rong-Guang as a disgraced karateka who flees Japan and finds himself tagging along with a gang of Japanese pirates. When the pirates raid a Chinese village, the karateka breaks free from them and saves a little Chinese girl, who in turn helps him get accepted into the village, as he seeks to learn a new fighting technique from her aunt (Cynthia Khan). The film’s main asset is Yu Rong-Guang, a fairly unsung martial arts actor who here both stars in the film, giving a warm and sympathetic performance that develops an endearing chemistry with the little girl, and choreographs the fighting with earthbound flair and engaging classicism. Cynthia Khan is a welcome presence and has some nice sparks with Yu. Really, the only thing ground-breaking about Deadend of Besiegers is the awkwardness of its title, but that doesn’t stop it from being an enjoyable, well-made martial arts film, that even manages to carry a more conciliatory message on Sino-Japanese relations than most films of its time. ***