ANGEL MISSION (1990) short review

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Godfrey Ho’s Angel Mission is neither a hideous patchwork of old and new footage like so many of his films, nor one of his very rare moments of true filmic inspiration, like Princess Madam. It’s right in between: bland yet basically competent. Yukari Oshima plays a Japanese Interpol agent tasked with finding Japanese citizens who are trapped in a prostitution ring headed by Chen Kuan Tai and his cool perm. She’s assisted by a Hong Kong policewoman (Ha Chi Chun) and crosses paths with a man (Dick Wei) whose sister is a victim of the same ring. It’s a spectacularly limp plot that manages to induce sleep even as it drops massive, fateful coincidences at every reel (Yukari’s mother works for the same evil mob boss on whose trail she is! Said mob boss is a former blood brother of Dick Wei!). Action is plentiful yet forgettable – generally competent of course, but Yukari’s fights are full of beautiful yet entirely gratuitous gymnastics flourishes that clash with the supposedly realistic tone. **

FINAL RUN (1989) short review

FinalRun+1989-4-bA mainstay of Hong Kong action cinema, Philip Ko directed fifty-four films in twenty-two years (including eight films in 1987 and nine films each for 1999 and 2001…). Of course, this prodigious output was in great part due to a resort to patchwork filmmaking – a method he shared with his regular collaborator Godfrey Ho – by which a film is made mostly with disparate bits of stock footage and recycled or unused scenes from other films. Thus a lot many of his fifty-four directorial efforts are near-unwatchable; a few (like Killer’s Romance) are quite solid, and a film like Final Run falls in between. The plot, about corrupt cops working with Golden Triangle drug traffickers and a customs officer getting stuck in the middle, is paradoxically so generic and plodding that it becomes hard to follow. Action is mostly absent for a whole hour, but if one survives that trial by boredom, one is rewarded with a good twenty-five minutes of blistering action. Par for the course, then, for this kind of second rate Hong Kong actioner. The cast is full of charismatic players, most of whom either have extended cameos (Francis Ng keeps a silly grimace at all times as a smug Golden Triangle warlord, Simon Yam is all lazy smarm as a mobster, Leung Kar Yan appears randomly near the end to dish out a few kicks), or supporting roles: Dick Wei gets a rare sympathetic role, and the magnificent Yukari Oshima disappears for fifty minutes, but when she reappears, it’s worth the wait, as she gets some of her most brutal and acrobatic fights – she had a hand in choreographing them, the only time she received an ‘action director credit’. The leads, Cheung Kwok Keung and Michael Miu, make much less of an impression. As was often the case at the time, Harold Faltermeyer’s score to The Running Man is heavily tracked-in. **

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. **

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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THE AVENGING EAGLE (1978) review

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While he didn’t achieve the same status as fellow directors Chang Cheh, Yuan Chu or Liu Chia-Liang within the Shaw Brothers roster of talent, Sun Chung has nevertheless given the legendary Hong Kong film studio some of its most original and/or striking classics. From his trailblazing use of steadycam to film martial arts fights in The Kung Fu Instructor, to the unhinged weirdness of Human Lanterns, Sun left an unmistakable though unsung mark in the Shaw catalogue. The Avenging Eagle might just be his best achievement. It follows Chi Min-Sing (Ti Lung), who is part of a brotherhood of assassins known as the Eagles, all raised by and obeying to the cruel Yue Xi-Hong (Ku Feng), who sends them on missions to murder his enemies. When Chi is gravely wounded in one of these missions, he is taken in by a generous man, whose daughter he falls in love with. She urges him to not kill anymore and become a good man, but the pressure from Yue and the Eagles proves too strong : soon Chi is back in the murdering business, and he can’t stop the man who saved him and the woman he loves from being assassinated by his ‘brothers’. But after having committed the unthinkable by murdering a pregnant woman on his master’s order, Chi finally decides to run away from the Eagles and look for the murdered woman’s husband to atone for his crime. During his escape he meets a nameless man (Alexander Fu-Sheng), who decides to help him, seemingly out of the kindness of his heart. But it is soon discovered he has hidden motives, and unsuspected fighting abilities…

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