PRINCESS MADAM (1989) review

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As a director, erstwhile Chang Cheh assistant Godfrey Ho is known as a master of schlock, many of his films being facepalm-inducing patchworks of stock footage, recycled scenes from older films, gratuitous sex scenes and quite often, random ninja appearances. He’s like the dark flip-side of that other Chang Cheh assistant, John Woo. Yet, a film like Princess Madam is proof that Ho was more than capable of delivering a solid, coherent and at times even affecting actioner. Moon Lee and Sharon Yeung star as police officers Mona and Lisa (aheheh), assigned to the protection of a key witness in bringing mob boss Lung (Yueh Hua) to justice for murdering a cop. During a failed ambush on the witness and her police escort, Mona kills the lover of assassin Lily (Michiko Nishiwaki), who later retaliates by seducing, then kidnapping her husband. But matters are complicated further by the fact that Lisa’s adoptive father (Kenneth Tsang) was complicit in Lung’s crime, which poses an agonizing dilemma to her.

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THE FATAL RAID (aka SPECIAL FEMALE FORCE 2) (2019) review

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Jacky Lee’s The Fatal Raid was initially announced as a sequel to Wilson Chin’s lackluster Girls With Guns revival Special Female Force, before dropping the connection altogether. Indeed, only three actresses return – in new roles – from the 2016 film: Jade Leung, Jeana Ho and Hidy Yu. Twenty years ago, Hong Kong inspectors Tam (Patrick Tam), Hard Gor (Michael Tong), Fong (Jade Leung), Shirley (Sharon Luk) and the rest of their team conducted a raid in Macao against a group of vicious gangsters, which ended in the deaths of Hard Gor, Shirley and an innocent bystander. Now, still shell-shocked from this botched operation, Tam and Fong must return to Macao to face an anarchist gang that threatens the city’s safety. Backing them is a special female force comprised of Alma (Jeana Ho), Yan Han (Lin Min Chen), Sheila (Hidy Yu) and Yu Yu (Jadie Lin).

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DEVIL HUNTERS (aka ULTRA FORCE 2) (1989) review

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Released just a few months after Killer Angels, Devil Hunters was also directed by Tony Liu and was in some places released as a sequel to that film (under the risible title Ultra Force). Of course, there are no narrative connections between the two films, as Devil Hunters follows a vicious gangster (Francis Ng) who will stop at nothing to find his boss’s stash of diamonds. But on his way are policemen (Alex Man and Sibelle Hu), as well as his boss’s daughter (Moon Lee) and former second-in-command (Michael Chan Wai Man), now gone good. It’s a slightly uninvolving plot, that valiantly tries to create surprises in a genre that rarely contained any, narratively speaking. But it ends up feeling muddled, despite Tony Liu’s usual above-average attention to characters and drama: Michael Chan is touching as a reformed gangster inevitably drawn back to violence, while Sibelle Hu and Alex Man have an interesting – if under-developped – tough love relationship.

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KILLER ANGELS (aka ULTRA FORCE 1) (1989) short review

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In Tony Liu’s Killer Angels, Moon Lee plays an agent from a crime unit known as the “Blue Angels” (how original), who goes undercover at a night club whose owner (Leung Kar Yan) may be a human trafficker. We won’t delve much more into the plot, which is a half-hearted excuse for a series of full-blooded action scenes. Indeed, this is a rock-solid Girls with Guns actioner, with good pacing and excellent action directing from Chui Fat, and a few interesting touches. For instance, an unexpectedly touching romantic subplot in which Gordon Liu’s cold and efficient hitman falls in love with Moon Lee, much to the chagrin his colleague played by Fujimi Nadeki, an underrated and often underused action actress who here gets to shine as a spiteful and deadly mob enforcer. There’s also a terrific scene where Moon Lee sings and dances to Chai Li’s song “Betray”, in a fetching leather outfit. More than mere fan service, it’s a reminder of what a well-rounded performer she was (well, is, but her last film was almost ten years ago). And there’s Yuen King Tan in only her second film, in a rare action role before being typecast as comic relief ; though a delightful scene where she beats up a sleaze-bag who’s called her “sex kitten” one time too many shows that her comedic chops are already there. And Leung Kar Yan has fun posturing as a charismatic mob boss, before revealing “unsuspected” martial arts proficiency during the spectacular finale. All in all, a real pleasure. ***

IRON ANGELS 3 (aka ANGEL 3) (1989) review

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In this third installment of Teresa Woo’s seminal Girls with Guns franchise, only Moon Lee, Alex Fong and Kharina Sa return from the previous film (with only the former two having starred in all three films) as the titular ‘Angels’, an elite task force that rids the world of assassins, dictators and terrorists. This time, Moon has to infiltrate a terrorist organization bent on starting a war between Thailand and Vietnam. She succeeds but has to leave her tracking device behind, so that Alex & Kharina, assisted by Thai agent Kwai (Ralph Chen) and a bony gweilo nicknamed Computer, are left running across Bangkok trying to locate her. It isn’t much of a plot, but that was never what the Iron Angels films were about. They were obviously about action, and in this respect this final film is easily the best of the bunch. The former two installments had stunning action, but lopsided structures by which they noodled around for an hour before exploding into non-stop action.

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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