“Angel Force” (1990)

(Hatract Films/Ying Feng Film/Chun Wah Film and TV; Dir. Wah San)

Moon Lee is “Mone,” a policewoman selected to participate in a dangerous paramilitary mission into the jungle to rescue an important hostage.  When the mission leader (Wilson Lam) is ambushed and severely wounded, she must take over.  A well-executed, extended military-style engagement then follows in which Mone’s team – after significant casualties – wipes out the opposition.  This is the highlight of the film.

Returning to HK, her character discovers the duplicity and betrayal of her supervisor (Jimmy Lee), who contracts with a career criminal (Shing Fui-on) to eliminate Lee’s policewoman and her colleagues.  What follows is a fairly routine Moon Lee police action finale, but well done nonetheless.
The film is chiefly interesting for the explicit contrast between Lee’s rather naïve, self-effacing off-duty character and the single-minded combat leader who steps forward in time of crisis.  The paramilitary action sequences are well done, but include a gratuitous assault that Lee’s team leader, strangely, does little to correct.  The film is not distinguished by unusually proficient dramatic performances, but simply delivers ample action and screen time for Lee.

“Angel Terminators” (1990)

(Grandwell Film Production; Dir. Wai Lit)

Set against the background of a gang takeover war, “Angel Terminators” is a dark, bloodthirsty film featuring a three-way clash between one gang reinforced by a spectacular looking Michiko Nishiwaki, the police spearheaded by partners Sharon Yeung and Kara Hui, and Carrie Ng playing an old flame of the gang leader who is now married to a detective.  The principals really strut their stuff here, Carrie Ng portraying a long-suffering and ultimately abused character whose gambling-corrupted husband loses everything.  Blackmailed by the gang leader (Kenneth Tsang), he betrays his police colleagues, while his wife sacrifices herself to save him.

As the gangs battle, Nishiwaki has ample opportunity to display lethal prowess with gun and tanto.  When her partner is killed by the police, she cuts off her finger and swears vengeance.  Her targets – “Ida” (Yeung) and “Hon” (Hui) – have a good working relationship, although Hui doesn’t have much screen time in the middle of the film.  After being lured into a trap, Ida is forcibly addicted to drugs and reduced to a physical wreck in a dungeon.  Nishiwaki performs her role as jailer and assassin with relish.
Eventually the police close in and Ida is rescued.  Recovered, she and Hon mount an assault on the gangster’s mansion.  As an additional bonus, both Mark Houghton and Dick Wei provide extra martial arts power at different points in the film.  Both Yeung and Hui are excellent, as usual, and the film’s violent ending in surprising.  The cast and action quotient are sufficient to maintain a highly satisfactory pace throughout.

“Mission of Condor” (1990)

(D & B Films/Betaview Productions; Dir. Lee King)

Despite being a “by-the-numbers” action film, “Mission of Condor” is one of Moon Lee’s best physical performances.  Positive features include great close-up cinematography, well-executed fight sequences, and a good supporting cast.  When Lee’s police team break up a major drug deal, the international cartel seeks revenge.  A ruthless contractor (Simon Yam) arranges for two assassination attempts.  The first assassin (Eddie Ko) fails and is captured.  The second attempt is mounted by a lethal pair (Ken Lo and Nadeki Fujimi).  Fujimi’s character leads an attack on the safe house where Ko is being held, and kills him.

Lee and Fujimi have one fight scene, but their separate confrontations with others are more impressive.  Both Lee and Fujimi display excellent physical performances.  Although Fujimi’s form appears to favor low kicks, one of her jumping kicks while fighting with Simon Yam is quite spectacular.  After her partner is killed, Fujimi’s character switches allegiance and helps the police attack the gang hideout.  When the leader escapes, this sets the stage for a classic warehouse finale in which both Simon Yam and Moon Lee are at their best.
Competently executed action is delivered with sufficient frequency to maintain interest, and Simon Yam’s villain is particularly ruthless.  The results are entertaining and occasionally dramatic.

“The Nocturnal Demon” (1990)

(Gold Double Productions/Lau Kun Wai Productions; Dir. Ricky Lau Koon-wai)

After starting out as a creepy “slasher” film, “Nocturnal Demon” quickly evolves into a pleasing action comedy with the arrival of Moon Lee.  Playing “Wawa,” a relative from the Mainland whose earnest naiveté propels an impulse to help, Lee impresses with a marvelous fight scene on roller skates in which she assists the HK police.  In a comedy of errors, she and her relatives later become embroiled in the search for the serial killer by being involved in yet another confrontation with gang members at the very spot where the serial killer has struck again.  After being identified by an eyewitness, Wawa and her cousin (Alfred Cheung) must flee.  Since only the gangster or the perpetrator can exonerate them, Wawa and her relatives mount a vigorous search for either one, including a humorous mission into the police records by Wawa’s blind grandfather (Lam Kau).

Lee did not appear in many comic roles, and this was well suited to her talent and screen persona.  HK action comedies are sometimes unsettling mixtures of pratfalls and violence.  This is no exception, but definitely offers Lee a great showcase for both her physical skills and acting ability.  The final fight, when the real killer finally breaks into the family’s apartment, is well worth waiting for.

“Outlaw Brothers, The” (1990)

(Movie Impact; Dir. Frankie Chan Fan-kei)

The success of this Frankie Chan action comedy owes much to the screen presence of Max Mok and Yukari Oshima.  Although they don’t have a lot of screen time, Mok’s lighthearted manner and Oshima’s equally deft touch with comedy elevate the proceedings.  Above all, this title serves as a showcase for Oshima’s martial arts skills, culminating in a final fight sequence that surely ranks among the absolute best of its type in contemporary HK action cinema.  As a further bonus, Michiko Nishiwaki glowers menacingly while directing her gang of gweilos that includes Mark Houghton, Jeff Falcon and Vincent Lyn.  Miu Kiu-wai is an eager, yet ineffective police detective who is infatuated with Oshima’s character “Tequila.”  For once, all the parts mesh.

Frankie Chan and Max Mok star as professional thieves of exotic cars.  When an undercover police officer (Tequila) poses as a buyer, it’s not really clear whose flirtation is genuine.  The ensuing game of wits between the characters of Chan and Oshima unfolds throughout the film, only reaching resolution in the very last moment before the credits.  Along the way there are comic interludes in which Tequila leans on her mark in a bedroom while an infuriated Miu Kiu-wai watches helplessly through a skylight, or when she poses as a relative during engagement negotiations involving Mok’s car thief and a nightclub hostess (Sharon Kwok).
There’s also action of a more physical kind.  This part was a major break for Oshima, casting her in her most prominent HK role to date.  She pulls out all the stops, delivering two outstanding martial arts sequences before the finale.  In the first, Tequila leads a police raid on an auto “chop shop” but gets trapped inside facing the gang alone.  It would be reasonable for the viewer to sympathize with the gang.  A high level of energy and physical conditioning combined with excellent fight choreography make this a satisfying encounter.  As the blows connect, try not to flinch.  After Tequila and Chan’s car thief connect, he brings her to an upscale pad.  As they literally and figuratively sidestep each other’s ploys, the real owner returns.  While fleeing, the gang members show up – setting the stage for another display of speed, flexibility and fight choreography.
As the plot lines of the movie converge, Michiko Nishiwaki plays a criminal whose task is to smuggle a major drug shipment in a car, “French Connection”-style.  She uses the racecar of Chan’s brother-in-law – and kidnaps his sister (Sheila Chan) into the bargain.  In the meantime Tequila thinks that Chan’s car thief has been turned and will help her nail Nishiwaki, while the car thief seeks to rescue his sister, salvage something from the situation, and win the affection of Tequila.  This knot is pulled apart in spectacular fashion in a truly great warehouse climax.  No matter how many climactic warehouse shootouts one has seen – this is different.  Guns, chickens, snakes, broadsword, a broom, steel fan, Hung Gar, karate – and spandex – combine to produce something unique.  When Oshima mixes it with Vincent Lyn, Mark Houghton and Jeff Falcon, all give their best.  In this movie even the car chases are good!

“She Shoots Straight” (1990)

(Golden Harvest/Bo Ho Films/Paragon Films; Dir. Corey Yuen Kwai)

“She Shoots Straight” turns on three satisfying plot axes.  The first concerns the complications of a workplace romance and marriage between a dedicated policewoman “Mina Kao” (Joyce Godenzi) and her supervisor “Huang Tsung-pao” (Tony Leung).  The second theme concerns opposition by the Huang family to the couple’s impending union.  Another policewoman, Mina’s future sister-in-law “Chia-ling” (Carina Lau) is especially critical of apparent favoritism, and even makes a remark about her being Eurasian (this is not unique – a comparable epithet being made by Oshima’s character to her male opponent in “Close Escape”).  The third axis provides resolution as a gang of Vietnamese led by Yuan Hua (Yuen Wah) attempts a violent and risky robbery.

After the gang is thwarted, a shootout ensues in which the police get the upper hand.  Swearing revenge, Yuan Hua lays a counter-trap using Vietnamese jungle warfare devices.  When Chia-ling – slighted over disciplinary action – impulsively investigates alone, she risks trouble.  Mina and Tsung-po rescue her, but he is killed by a booby trap, dying in front of his sister and bride.  United in their grief, the women must break the news to the Huang family at a celebration for their matriarch.  This paves the way for a relatively straightforward vengeance sub-plot in which Mina and Chia-ling track the gang to a freighter in the harbor.  In advance of reinforcements they board the vessel to fight a life or death duel against gang members and crew wielding pistols, hatchets, knives or tools.  These action sequences are well choreographed and filmed.  Corey Yuen’s direction puts the camera in the thick of the action, and Godenzi delivers an intense, passionate performance.
An additional treat is provided by a final confrontation between Godenzi and Agnes Aurelio, who plays a gang accomplice.  Aurelio’s physique and power are spectacular – but Godenzi’s performance measures up to the task.  Although any one of the blows in this confrontation should have been a knockout, it’s drawn out to a compelling submission.
Well acted and excitingly filmed, “She Shoots Straight” doesn’t falter.  It’s all the more remarkable that Godenzi reportedly had no previous martial arts experience until training with Dick Wei for the part.  Perhaps the one giveaway is ability to take punishment and not simply deliver it.  But this is a minor quibble with an ably crafted work.

“That’s Money” (1990)

(Dir. Wong Chun-yeung)

This film may be one of the best displays of open-handed female martial arts skill in contemporary HK film.  Yukari Oshima has no less than five terrific fights, while Kara Hui has three.  Their screen partnership is electric.  Director Wong Chun-yeung not only gets the best from both, but also appears to rehearse some of the devices that would fuel a number his later titles.

Oshima and Hui play employees in a struggling detective agency run by Ng Man-tat and Max Mok.  They accidentally gain possession of a suitcase full of money.  As a gang headed by a sadistic boss (Stuart Ong) attempts to retrieve it, they will kill anyone standing in their way.  From these bare outlines, Wong creates a superior action comedy that draws out the talents of the principal performers to the fullest.  Ng Man-tat is amusing as a bumbling private investigator – with a hint of sly calculation as well as bombast.  His fate is to suffer priapism after being repeatedly kicked in the groin by Oshima and trodden on by Hui.  His partner, Max Mok, is engaging as usual.  Hui’s efforts to keep him in line – and in physical shape – are well played.
Oshima has the choice role in this film as a secretary decked out in wraparound skirt, floral blouse, ponytail and cat’s eye spectacles.  She initially fights like this – even wearing shoes with heels.  Her character also gets to show delicious contempt for her male adversaries, change into a costume seemingly a forerunner of her look in “Dreaming the Reality,” make a highly intrusive pass at another woman, rummage in the back of a garbage truck, get tied up and tortured with small animals, and beat a brain-injured man.  This is not slapstick, but a more symbolic subtext – perfectly matched to Oshima’s visceral style – sweating in close-up.
After the gang fails to intimidate Ng and his associates into handing over the suitcase, they eventually kidnap Oshima’s character and hold her for ransom – paving the way for an exhilarating final fight at the gang’s hideout.  Along the way, several excellent martial artists – including Dan Mintz – provide additional fight scenes.

“Widow Warriors” (1990)

(Maverick Films; Dir. Johnny Wang Lung-wei)

When a triad patriarch and all his sons are assassinated in a gang takeover, it’s left to his surviving daughters and daughters-in-law to save the business and orchestrate revenge.  Director Wang Lung-wei crafts this interesting premise into a particularly well-made Heroic Bloodshed film.

The patriarch’s youngest daughter “Ching-ching” (Elizabeth Lee) has just returned newly married.  Her husband, while superficially attentive and agreeable, is actually a traitor planted by the rival gang.  As the men attend a Chinese Opera performance or visit a mistress, they are targeted in a series of well-planned assassinations.

One of the intriguing and essential aspects of the film is the contrasting and well-acted reactions of the survivors.  One daughter-in-law (Kara Hui) is both shrewd and suspicious, trailing the new family member and discovering his duplicity.  But she is disconcerted by the impulsive vengeance seeking of another of the in-law widows, “Chieko,” a Japanese played by Michiko Nishiwaki.  Sword in hand, Chieko slices her way into the headquarters of the rival triad.  Ironically, up to that point she has only killed a receptionist and is unexpectedly gunned down.  Hui is also discovered.  After a fine chase sequence and martial arts confrontation, she too is gunned down.  Unlike most comparable action films, she’s not dead – but ends up paralyzed with a tube up her nose, vainly attempting to signal to her grieving relatives with her eyes.
With the failure of the martial artists, “Nan” (Tien Niu) takes over.  Long involved with the ways of the triad, she understands the duplicity at its core.  Accordingly, she makes peace with the enemy while planning for war.  In this she is as ruthless as any in orchestrating a series of killings – including Ching-ching’s husband.
In the final confrontation, hitherto peaceful, educated Ching-ching takes a very personal hand in the action.  The final action scenes constitute GWG excess.  Blasting away with submachine guns in a junkyard, the protagonists are chopped down, flopping into muddy pools.  With several wearing white blouses or shirts, the results are predictable.  Acting, production and action are uniformly superior.