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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FATAL TERMINATION (1990) short review

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Despite its amusingly redundant and over-the-top title, Andrew Kam’s Fatal Termination is quite tame for two thirds of its runtime: its routine plot involves an arms dealer (Philip Ko) who hijacks a weapons shipment destined for Indian terrorists, with the help of a corrupt customs officer (Robin Shou) whose honest colleague (Michael Miu) becomes a scapegoat, the prime suspect to the cop (Simon Yam) in charge of the investigation. Ray Lui and Moon Lee play Miu’s brother and sister-in-law, concerned bystanders for most of the film but thrust into action for the last third, after he’s killed and their daughter is targeted for kidnapping as they get too close to the truth. This last third is in sharp contrast with the boring simmer of what came before: it is an explosion of brutality that is some of the most inspired chaos ever conjured up in a Hong Kong action film, courtesy here of action directors Ridley Tsui and Paul Wong. The kidnapping scene, where the little girl is dangled by her hair out of a speeding car, to the hood of which a desperate Moon Lee clings while attacking the driver, is a gobsmacking tour-de-force of action-directing and fearless stunt-work, and yet a mere starter. Subsequently, there’s hook-impaling a la Cobra, people strapped with explosives and blown to pieces, a child is shot to death, and it all ends with a relentless ballet of dueling cars and helicopters on brownfield land. With a more interesting plot, better pacing, and actual characters for the talented ensemble of Yam, Miu, Lee, Lui, Ko and Shou to sink their teeth into, this could have been a stone-cold classic of Hong Kong action cinema. James Horner provides most of the music, though he of course had no idea: his score for Gorky Park is heavily tracked-in. **1/2

BURY ME HIGH (1991) short review

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Tsui Siu Ming’s Bury Me High is an interesting mix of action and fantasy, along unusual lines, using feng shui as not just a plot point, but a full-blown narrative stake. It concerns a burial ground in a mountainous region of a Asian banana republic, whose unique feng shui location guarantees immense wealth to those interred there. A corporate executive (Moon Lee), a feng shui scholar (Tsui Siu Ming) and a hacker (Chin Kar Lok, stretching belief as popular hero Wisely, who is said to have an IQ of 200) go in search of this location, but they have to contend with the republic’s cruel new dictator (Yuen Wah, quite superb), who covets the burial ground to strengthen his power and wealth; his sister (Sibelle Hu) is more conflicted. There’s a very enjoyable sweep and ambition to the film, unfolding against majestic Vietnamese locations, and lavishing special care on its action scenes, which are scarce for the first two thirds, but plentiful in the final 30 minutes. A night fight on a rickety bridge unfolds in the middle of a vast torch-bearing circle of soldiers, there’s a full-blown battle scene involving tanks, and Yuen Wah and Chin Kar Lok’s amazing agility makes their final fight a thing of beauty, especially when the great Moon Lee cuts in. It is a lopsided film that doesn’t engage until its final tier, and the feng shui stakes are often a bit abstruse, but the finale is worth the wait. **1/2

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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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

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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IRON ANGELS 2 (aka ANGELS 2) (1988) short review

Angel-II-1988 The very first directorial effort of Stanley Tong, who went on to become one of Jackie Chan’s directors of choice with films like Police Story 3 : Supercop and Rumble in the BronxIron Angels 2 sees the the return of the titular “angels”, elite mercenaries played by Moon Lee, Elaine Lui and Alex Fong, with the notable absence of David Chiang who played their boss in the first film but with the notable addition of Kharina Sa, a strikingly stunning panther of a woman with no backstory and little dialogue. This time they’re vacationing in Malaysia, where they meet Alex’s lifelong friend Peter, who’s become a wealthy businessman. But just as Elaine starts to fall for him, the Angels realize that he’s actually a wannabe-dictator with a small army of his own, and that they have to stop him. Similar to the first film, Iron Angels 2 features surprisingly little action for much of its runtime, a fact that is disappointing considering this is a film so crudely plotted that the villain’s evil ambitions are revealed with a scene of him watching archive footage of Hitler. But again like the first film, it all ends with almost half an hour of intense action, in this case a relentless Rambo-inspired jungle-set action scene, with Alex Fong carrying out a one-man ambush on dozens of soldiers, Moon Lee taking on Yuen Tak (who also choreographs the action) in a furious fight, and Elaine Lui gunning down henchmen while hanging from a zip line. It’s a superbly bombastic and exciting piece of action directing and fearless stuntwork (witness Moon Lee’s un-doubled narrow escape from an exploding watchtower, the lady has guts), a reward to the audience for sticking through one hour of fairly uninvolving drama. **1/2

THE INSPECTOR WEARS SKIRTS 4 (1992) review

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This is the final film in an enjoyable but trashy film series that had used up its thin concept by the first installment, then rehashed it for a second film, before injecting a big dose of craziness for the third episode. And so it comes to The Inspector Wears Skirts 4, with the only returning cast members being Sandra Ng, Kara Hui and Billy Lau, as well as Wung Fu in the role of the superior officer. A botched operation has led to the disbanding of the female commando : Sandra Ng has become a widow and overbearing single mother, Kara Hui has entered a mental institution after a nasty fall left her nuttier than a Pecan log, and Billy Lau is now a school supervisor, and has married Sheila Chan after a short fling with Sandra that ended in near-castration. A new female commando has been formed, headed by Moon Lee, but is found to fall very short of its tactical objectives, which is why Sandra and Kara are called back, and a tough cop and instructor, played by Cynthia Khan, is brought in to whip them back into shape.

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