On the Run: Fugitive Dramas

“Let’s go.”  (Pat Ha, “On The Run”)

Fugitive films employ the device of separation from normal obligations or personal ties by being on the run.  Some HK films followed the cinematic tradition of “Bonnie and Clyde” to depict intense relationships forged by acute external threat.  Examples include “Organized Crime and Triad Bureau” (1994), “Legendary Couple” (1995) and “Enemy Shadow” (1995).  Some depict rather conventional, subordinate romantic interests for the principal male stars (e.g., Anthony Wong, Simon Yam), while others permit a more subtle examination of emotions, trust and betrayal (“Enemy Shadow”).  In these films the extreme circumstances apparently permit exploration of loyalties and conflicts that might otherwise subvert relations with less compromised partners.  By placing the relationship within the context of the partner’s actions, competing interests or loyalties may be explored.  In “Enemy Shadow” Jade Leung’s former policewoman gradually discovers that her lover is, in fact, a ruthless killer.  Here, neither party is redeemed by their relationship.  However, it is noteworthy that such extreme circumstances should be needed in order to prompt such examination.

Cecilia Yip and Anthony Wong (Organized Crime) and Chingmy Yau and Simon Yam (Legendary Couple)
In one of the best films of this type (“On The Run,” 1988), Pat Ha Man-chik plays a stone-cold contract killer who is imported from Thailand for a hit on a female police detective.  Her own suffering and exploitation is only hinted, but represents a powerful undercurrent.  After being caught by the victim’s estranged husband (Yuen Biao), the pair is hunted by a gang of corrupt detectives who attempt to have them killed.  Under the pressure of pursuit, the roles of Yuen Biao’s and Pat Ha’s characters subtly change.  As he is wounded, she gradually assumes the stronger role of protector.  This is humanizing and liberating for both of them – even though they inevitably fail.  Darkly paranoid and sparing in its dialog, this is an excellent combination that illustrates just how distorted, superficial or exploitative so many other screen relationships in action cinema can be.
Pat Ha (On the Run) and Sharon Kwok (Dead Target)
A thematically similar film, “The Other Side of the Sea” (1994), involves a deceptively languid opening in which Michelle Lee’s character seeks anonymous refuge amid the quiet rhythms of a fishing community on Lantau Island.  The violence of her past is glimpsed through a series of flashbacks, presenting progressively more jarring contrasts with the tranquil present.  As in “On the Run,” she’s a foreign-born killer – a Vietnamese – who is now herself the expendable target of a contract.  Following the movie’s metaphor of a storm, gunplay and violence eventually wash over the protagonists.  Once again, the interplay of cold gunplay and emerging well-acted romance succeeds in subverting expectations.  Michelle Lee is the stronger partner in an emerging romantic pairing.  She is not only more lethal but also more interesting.  However, the couple’s love is not the beginning, but an end – a postscript to a story told retrospectively.  This film essentially improved on the plot and action quotient of “The Black Morning Glory” (1993), in which Lee also played a hitwoman who becomes romantically involved with a peaceful figure.
Michelle Reis (Black Morning Glory and The Other Side of the Sea)
In “Women On The Run” (1993), an unexpectedly strong performance (from a Cat. III title) pairs two women.  One, an undercover cop played by Cat. III actor Cheung Yai-ling portrays a relatively conventional dependence on her slick, sociopathic, married boyfriend.  In typical HK police movie fashion, he’s also her supervisor.  However, the real power of the film comes from newcomer Joh Yung who delivers a credible performance as a naive rural Mainlander who, after leaving her village with her boyfriend, is plunged into drug abuse and prostitution.  As a hardened, cynical addict she is turned against a drug gang by the HK police, teamed with Cheung.  Although betraying its Cat. III pedigree in places, Yung also wanders through a seedy underworld of drug addiction, betrayal and police brutality.  She delivers a good martial arts performance, including a staff form.  However, she is most compelling while arguing against the policewoman’s continued faith in her lover and the “system.”
Joh Yung (Women on the Run) and Lily Chung (Wild Couples)
“Legendary Couple” (1995) pits Chingmy Yau and Simon Yam against a preposterous script from which only the death of their characters provides release.  Nevertheless, it may be noted that, even here, the screen relationship that seems temporarily redeeming proves ultimately lethal.
Rosamund Kwan (Tiger Cage II) and Jade Leung (Enemy Shadow)
A few films defy simple categorization.  “Her Judgment Day” (1992) features two women who must flee from a triad gang, while  “Murders Made to Order” (1993) features an excellent performance by Maggie Siu Mei-kei as an undercover police officer who becomes compromised by getting too deeply involved in her cover as an assassin.  All too quickly she realizes that almost everyone is duplicitous – and that she has become the target.  An emerging relationship with her contractor – well acted by Waise Lee – becomes particularly problematic for both.  As an additional bonus, this film builds directly on an earlier title, “Sting of the Scorpion” (1992) – picking up where the earlier vengeance plot ended.

Maggie Siu (Sting of the Scorpion and Murders Made to Order)