“Angel Terminators II” (1993)

(Dirs. Wong Chun-yeung, Chan Lau)

Despite less exotic locations and activities, this is essentially a re-make of “Dreaming the Reality” by the same director.  Plot elements are comparable.  In each of these films the relatively fragile normalcy of one couple’s life is upset by the intrusion of the chaos attendant on another couple’s activities.  Whereas in “Dreaming” this resulted from an essentially random encounter with Moon Lee’s amnesic fugitive, here it is caused by the release from prison of Yukari Oshima’s petty triad figure “Bullet” who enrages her estranged police officer father (and just about everyone else she has contact with).  In both films the unanticipated intrusion brings death in its wake, destroying both couples by attracting the lethal attention of gangs.  Both male partners are killed while making futile, protective gestures.

Oshima’s roles in both these films is as the catalyst for plot elements leading to destructive violence.  In “Angel Terminators II” Bullet’s hostility and rage alienate everyone and cost her a job, while her impulsive stealing brings down the wrath of the triad on her and the others.  Eventually, her characters’ Heroic Bloodshed – intriguingly self-sacrificial in both films – opens up vengeance endgames allowing Moon Lee and Sibelle Hu to grimly pair up and take out the opposition.  The primer of righteous anger is an essential feature that elevates both their performances – but especially Sibelle Hu’s.  In “Angel Terminators II,” while silently grieving for her deceased partner – her police detective character terrorizes an informant into giving up his boss.
It’s one of her better acting scenes – and she is uniformly excellent in both these films.  Lee is always entertaining, but “Angel Terminators II” is definitely Yukari Oshima’s film – despite (and partly because of) Bullet’s premature death.  The whole story has a doomed, tragic inevitability.  Bullet is so prickly and abrasive that she can’t sustain any relationships for long.  As everything comes crashing down and her friends are kidnapped and killed, Bullet publicly refuses to accept responsibility.  But privately she’s forced back on rather twisted martial honor, dying in savage, bloody slow motion.  The momentary intensity of Bullet’s death – wielding a knife and Molotov cocktail – mirrors her character’s life.
In one of her best performances, Oshima paints a bold character portrait.  The combination of leather jacket, suede ankle boots, butch-flip hair, cheap rings, and spandex pants covered in the word “slut” is visually striking enough.  But add her martial arts, intense stare, and a hint of imbalance – and the result is an ambiguous character as intriguing as any – and her most fascinating since “Madam Yeung” in “Angel.”

“Drug Tiger” (1993)

After surviving the murder of his parents by a rival gang at the age of six, “Hsou” grows up in an orphanage.  As a young adult, together with his best friend “Chien,” he runs a street vending stall.  A chance encounter with a female police officer “Wen” (Lam Pan-kwun) sets in motion a chain of events that ultimately lead to vengeance against the gang that killed his parents.

This unpretentious Taiwanese title deserves attention not for its production values, but for spirited performances and stunts, as well as a rousing action finale that features more flame, explosions and blast than most.  Bold camerawork puts the audience in the thick of this.  While it is true that some of the weaponry is clearly fake and the mats for stunts can occasionally be glimpsed, the martial arts and diving through windows is physical and unadorned.  After all, the actors really do jump from several floors up.
Above all, Lam Pan-kwun displays considerable screen presence as well as good martial arts and gymnastic skills.  She has a lot of screen time and is a real pleasure to watch in her numerous fight scenes.  The previous year she had appeared in an equally memorable role as the fashion designer “Catherine” in “Passionate Killing in the Dream.”  In “Drug Tiger” she displays a superficially jovial combination of charm and insolence somewhat reminiscent of Moon Lee’s policewoman parts – but with an edgy undercurrent of dangerousness as well as willingness to perform physically demanding stunts on a muddy set.  A fusion of workaday and supercilious features yields a distinctively unpredictable character.  When pushed too far, a streak of menace and hinted cruelty is visible.  During the final fight Lam squares off against a conspicuously excellent martial artist who intimidates by briefly demonstrating his form and flexibility.  As he launches into a seemingly unstoppable (wire-assisted) attack, she spins.  But instead of producing a back-kick, she smilingly produces a concealed pistol and shoots him.  Her facial expression matches the ploy.
Well able to carry the part of action lead, Lam could have been an excellent choice for many better known GWG roles of a year or two previously.  Where is Wen when she’s needed now, a decade later?  Cameo appearances include Shing Fui-on, Eric Tsang, Tai Bo and Wu Ma (who performs an amusing parody of his song in A Chinese Ghost Story!).

“Madam City Hunter” (1993)

(Art Sea Films Co.; Dir. Kong Yeuk-shing)

A relatively low profile action comedy, “Madam City Hunter” provides Cynthia Khan with the opportunity to be both visually stunning and convincingly deadly.  The action choreography is unusually good, and Khan performs with more vigor and physical agility than usual, with a touch of meanness that makes for excellent fight scenes.  Her speed, power and complexity of combinations are definitely increased relative to earlier productions.  As an additional bonus, Kara Hui acts in perhaps the most sensual role of her career, performing a partial striptease while wearing a man’s suit, as well as wearing a maid’s costume.  Hers is a lively performance benefiting from both her acting range and physical conditioning.  She has some all-too-brief fight scenes, also.

The plot concerns a private investigator “Charlie Chan” (Anthony Wong) who is hired to investigate Hui’s character “Siu-hung.”  Superficially, she appears to be scheming to kill Khan’s father (Woo Fung), who is enjoying his new relationship with her seemingly oblivious to the threat.  With time on her hands due to a suspension, Khan’s police officer “Yang Ching” is able to spy on the couple, setting in motion a relationship comedy involving her police supervisor and the private investigator – both of whom are her admirers.  Although her character stops short of an embrace, it’s one of Khan’s more sensual roles.  She also gets drunk, vomits and fights in short order.  In the background, a band of assassins called “The Five Fingers” has been reduced to four by Khan’s actions, and comes seeking revenge.
Although Khan is better known for the “In the Line of Duty” series, she’s a pleasure to watch here when given the opportunity to act as well as fight.

“Murders Made to Order” (1993)

(Panasia Films Production Co. Ltd./Paragon Films Ltd.)

After a tantalizing opening featuring Cynthia Khan as a contract killer – a welcome change from her cop persona – this film unfolds through a succession of intriguing plot twists that defy simple sub-genre classification.  In a very strong performance, Maggie Siu is recycled as a dispensable undercover cop after languishing in a psychiatric hospital.  In one of the many interesting plot elements, she is released and briefed by the very police supervisor (and former lover) that she had shot during the close of “Sting of the Scorpion.”  Continuity is provided by flashback sequences.

Assigned to undercover work as a nightclub hostess, her toughness proves equal to the threats and demands of this violent world.  She makes both friends and enemies, but attracts the attention of a smooth gang leader (played by Waise Lee).  After apparently killing a police officer during a confrontation, she is provided refuge by his organization and trained as an assassin.

Complicating factors include a junior triad admirer who eventually discovers her true identity, a growing romantic involvement with Waise Lee, and an eventual assassination assignment.  Siu’s character discovers the hard way that the organization covers its tracks by eliminating the contract assassins after they have completed their mission.

There are further double-crosses in store, as the lines between law enforcement and law breaking become increasingly blurred.  Unexpected betrayals create equally unexpected alliances.  The various parties converge on an intense, well-choreographed shootout from which few emerge.

In addition to being an excellent dramatic and action performance by Maggie Siu, Waise Lee portrays a figure who is both urbane and duplicitous.  Good cinematography, pacing and action combine with a solid plot to yield a satisfying production that deserves wider appreciation.

 “Pink Panther” (1993)

Taiwanese action films have a distinctive style.  Unlike HK productions that make liberal use of comic relief, Taiwanese actioners occasionally veer off into humorless violence.  “Pink Panther” finds Nadeki Fujimi, To Kwai-fa and several female Taiwanese partners at their humorless best.  Vengeance is exacted on behalf of random victims of partner violence, in quite mean-spirited ways.

After a male criminal is humiliated in front of his wife, his gang retaliates violently.  What ensues is a series of running confrontations with the police largely content to await developments.  When “Wang Fu-nan” (Fujimi) leads her gang in an unusually combative response, the men kidnap Wang and tie her up.  The gender violence symbolism seems obvious.  Defiant to the last, Wang (Fujimi) is rescued by her motorcycle-riding gang in the nick of time.  This paves the way for a satisfying martial arts and guns showdown in a familiar industrial plant setting (also used in “Raiders of Loesing Treasure” and “Drug Tiger”).  The formula is simple, the delivery effective.
The female vigilantes don’t shrink from the task, and Fujimi, To and an unidentified peer give solid martial arts performances.  There’s not even a hint of romance or mercy.  In its way it deserves to be a minor classic.

“Project S” (1993)

(Golden Harvest/Paragon Films; Dir. Stanley Tong Kwai-lai)

Designed as a follow up to “Police Story III:  Supercop,” this film was intended to focus on Michelle Yeoh’s striking role as Chief of Security Yang.   Here she is sent from the Mainland to HK to assist with investigation of a major robbery attempt.  Unfortunately, neither Yeoh nor director Stanley Tong recaptured the magic of Chief Yang that made “Supercop” unique.  Yeoh is certainly proficient in the physical aspects of the part, but in “Project S” her character seems unacceptably gullible and vulnerable while on plain-clothes assignment to HK.  How could such an experienced senior police officer be so readily deceived by her ex-boyfriend (Yu Rong Guang).  One might also have expected rather plain, severe attire in place of the high fashion clothing featured in “Project S.”

Despite these drawbacks, the action moves along at a reasonable pace as Yu Rong Guang’s character leaves his Mainland job as a security guard and makes his fortune illegally in HK.  Together with a group of his ex-army comrades he plans a major robbery of a bank vault.  Following a strong opening that culminates in a battle between the HK police and the gang, Yeoh’s part fades until the final action sequence during the robbery itself.  There is a relationship interlude, but it doesn’t appear to fit the character of Yang.
The film is well acted and directed, and features a good final action sequence both in the bank vault and subway tunnel.  Yeoh has an excellent fight with a gigantic gweilo opponent.  Cameo appearances worthy of note include Yukari Oshima as a Japanese terrorist – briefly sparring with Yu Rong Guang – and Jackie Chan in drag in an embarrassing comic scene.