DREAMING THE REALITY (1991) review

img.phpSolid Hong Kong journeyman director Tony Liu united ‘Girls with Guns’ mainstays Moon Lee, Yukari Oshima and Sibelle Hu three times, in 1993 in the minor classic Angel Terminators II, the comedy The Big Deal in 1992, and before that, the rock solid actioner Dreaming the Reality. In it, Lee and Oshima play Silver Fox and Black Cat, two assassins trained to kill since childhood by ruthless mob boss Fok (Eddy Ko). Though Black Cat is unwavering in her missions, Silver Fox is starting to feel the weight of the deaths she’s caused on her conscience. One day on a mission gone wrong in Thailand, she loses her memory after taking a nasty fall while escaping the police. She wakes with no memory of who she is, and is helped by wry ex-cop Si Lan-Fa (Sibelle Hu) and her brother Rocky (Ben Lam), a boxer. But Black Cat is on her blood sister’s trail, tasked by Fok with bringing her back into the fold.

Tony Liu was always one of the most dependable purveyors of Girls with Guns action, with films like Devil Hunters, Killer Angels and the aforementioned Angel Terminators II providing a measure of heartfelt character development alongside the dizzying fights and death-defying stunts (Sibelle Hu, Moon Lee and Ray Lui had a close call with death or at least permanent disability while filming Devil Hunters). Dreaming the Reality is no exception. It plays efficiently on Lee and Oshima’s sizzling chemistry (doomed sisterhood much like in Angel Terminators II), gives Sibelle Hu one of her best and most charismatic roles as a salty ex-cop (who keeps psyching her adversaries with novelty lighters, an amusing running gag), and though the Nikita-style ‘tortured female assassin(s) and ruthless handler’ subplot is under-developed (a superbly intense Eddy Ko only bookends the film), there’s still a fair emotional punch to the explosive finale.

As in many Hong Kong action films of the time, said finale is a beauty of course, as Moon Lee and Sibelle Hu mow down scores of henchmen in a maze of explosive booby-traps, before Lee goes up against Ko in a superb “unbeatable cripple” fight (Ko has a limp and a cane). There’s also gobsmacking stunts, like a motorcycle jump over a few police vans, and a hair-raising run through the aforementioned maze of explosions – it’s obvious that one single step in the wrong direction, and the fearless stuntman would have his leg blown clean off. Of course, like many films of its ilk, Dreaming the Reality does suffer the ‘soft underbelly’ syndrome a bit, with a midsection that’s not as intense as the opening and finale. There’s a whole subplot about boxing contracts and matches that’s entertaining enough, but a lighthearted and overextended diversion from the film’s more fierce and unforgiving main storyline, and drags it a bit past that kind of film’s 90-minute sweet spot.

Long Story Short: Despite a less taut midsection, Dreaming the Reality is rock-solid Girls with Guns action from Tony Liu, one of the most dependable purveyors in the genre. Moon Lee, Yukari Oshima and Sibelle Hu’s charisma sizzles, bringing heart to a typically brutal story that ends in glorious carnage. ***

 

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