1991 - 1992

“King of Gambler” (1991)

(Eagle Film Production Co., Dir. Johnnie Kong)

A Triad gang is recruited by an unscrupulous Japanese terrorist mastermind (Lung Fong), posing as a gambler, to assist in a high stakes gambling match.  Although ostensibly seeking to reverse loss of face for an earlier defeat by a female American gambler with special sensory powers, this plan is actually concerned with raising money for a Japanese terrorist cell.  The fiancé (Lin Wei) of the HK Triad boss’s daughter (Kathy Chow) pits his special sensory powers against the American contender, who is actually in league with the Japanese terrorists.  When his future father-in-law (Roy Chiao) is killed and fiancée is kidnapped, he and Alex Man (the Triad boss’s son) take revenge.

The action at levels in this film is so exaggerated that all dramatic effect is squandered.  The gambling match involves stakes of US $700 million.  The mass slaughters of the Triad family by American gunmen at a garden party, of the gunmen in a hotel suite, and of the neatly suited Japanese terrorists involve scything down dozens of people in waves by machine gun fire.  They literally run en masse into the line of fire.  Lack of dramatic tension renders the characters and sub-plots so unreal that it’s hard to care about the outcome.
Michiko, appearing in a cameo role, breaks a sweat as the Japanese gambler initially defeated by the American with special powers.  Unfortunately she doesn’t have much to do other than look great in a traditional kimono.  Her entire appearance is a cameo, presented on a videotaped review of the card game.

A1, B0, C2, D2, E2, F2 (9).

“Real Me, The” (1991)

An undercover cop (Kong Wa) on a mission to steal incriminating computer discs from a Triad gang suffers a head injury after a car chase and develops amnesia.  He is attacked in hospital by the Triad gang and narrowly escapes.  Fleeing from both the gang and the police, he is rescued by Michiko.  She is his lover, and there are some relatively explicit (but not graphic) sexual scenes.  She is a Japanese who works for another gang headed by her father.  She reports to his house and changes into a traditional kimono.  She is later abducted and held for ransom by the gang that is attempting to recover the discs.

During the second half of the film Michiko’s lover begins to recover elements of his memory.  He returns to visit his wife (Kara Hui Ying-Hung).  Later, distraught over the death of her police officer brother (Chin Siu Ho) who is killed by the hero to preserve his cover, she beats on him.  Then they embrace – only to be discovered by Michiko.  There is a good fight scene between Michiko – who throws several powerful roundhouse kicks – and Kara, who performs an impressive kip.  After Kara is knocked down in the road she is killed by an oncoming truck.  A hit is ordered on Michiko and her lover.  In a doomed confrontation they are outnumbered by gang members, and Michiko is shot, dying in her lover’s arms.
Michiko has considerable screen time in this film, and several brief fight scenes.  Although not one of her most striking roles, she is nevertheless pleasing to watch.

A3, B2.5, C2.5, D3, E3, F3 (17).  Recommended

“Witchcraft vs. Curse” (1991)

(Hop Chung Film [HK] Ltd.)

When an ambitious mother enlists the aid of a sorcerer to cast a spell over a wealthy young man so that he will marry her daughter, his suddenly abandoned fiancée seeks the assistance of a school friend now living in Thailand.  She, in turn, refers them to a sorceress (Michiko) who engages in a spiritual contest with the sorcerer that eventually frees the young man.

There is a lot of relatively graphic sex throughout this film, including an autoerotic scene in which the woman who referred her friend to Michiko is visited by a ghost of adultery who invisibly has intercourse with her.  Michiko’s sorcery is enhanced by performing elephants and well-endowed, semi-nude young women who alternately perform ritual dances or sexually provoke the heroine’s fiancé while he is in a trance.
Although Michiko appears at her languid best, she really just poses and does not have much overall screen time.  This is definitely a Cat. III erotic production dressed up as sorcery.

A2, B1.5, C2.5, D2, E2, F1 (11).

“Mighty Gambler, The” (1992)

(Chung Ngai Movie Production Co., Dir. Wong Chan-Yeung)

In this entertaining, fast-paced GWG movie, Sibelle Hu plays the daughter of a casino owner who is killed in a revenge hit.  When a Japanese mob guest of hers is also killed, she fears a takeover by a Japanese gang, headed by Alex Man.  After a tense confrontation, she appears to shoot him, but this is actually a ruse to draw out his foster brother (Alex Fong) who is the real culprit.

Well-choreographed fight scenes with kung fu, guns, karate and a sword, as well as an exhilarating final confrontation in the casino place this film among the best in the genre.  The movie is free from offensive sexuality or sexism.  Throughout, whether at the tables or during gun battles, the action is tense and crisply directed.  Although it is Sibelle Hu’s movie – one of her best roles – Michiko has a substantial supporting part as the straight-laced Mainland cousin of one of Sibelle Hu’s employees.  She’s hired as a waiter, and participates in several fight sequences, including with a sword-wielding female assassin.  Michiko appears well muscled, fast and powerful.  Her stance and form suggest she had been studying traditional karate styles, as well as the sword.  Although her fight scenes are brief, they are qualitatively among her best.

A2, B 4, C2.5 D3, E4, F3.5 (19).  Highly Recommended

“Passionate Killing in the Dream” (1992)

(Dir. Parkman Wong)

Set in Thailand, the central character is an emotionally vulnerable female fashion photographer whose vivid dreams about a serial killer eventually provoke his unwelcome attention.  Michiko’s character “Sha-Sha Lee” is more subdued and conventional than usual.  She does a competent job as the star of this drama, effectively conveying the terrifying destabilization caused by her nightmarish visions that eventually become reality.  Unfortunately, the depth and relative subtlety of her performance is offset by a wholly unnecessary romance – with her psychologist!  If this had been portrayed as an inappropriate, clandestine liaison prompted by her unraveling sanity, the film might have been considerably enhanced.  However, it seems just an excuse to subordinate the female lead to male direction, with some travel scenes of their vacation thrown in!  The usual elements of mild farce are also distracting.

On the positive side is an unexpectedly strong performance from the main female supporting actor who plays “Catherine,” the director of a fashion show for which Michiko is shooting publicity stills.  Catherine is a lesbian who is pampered by her models and assistants.  She makes a play for Michiko, admiring her physique.  She’s also a proficient martial artist, and when she drunkenly persuades Michiko to accompany her on a continuing binge in an open-air café, Catherine quickly picks a fight with some leering young men.  In one of the film’s best scenes Michiko and she demolish the opposition, Catherine alternately staggering and fighting.  She eggs Michiko on, screaming at her to kill the men.  Sha-Sha is visibly put out, and brusquely rejects her.
The other major pillar supporting the plot is the serial killer, played with considerable sophistication by Gordon Liu.  Flashbacks show his childhood exposure to poverty and family violence, as his mother’s drunken partner hurls him down the stairs of their hut.  His adult efforts to succeed as a muay Thai boxer are cut short in matches where he is brutally beaten with tonfas.  Beaten, scared, scarred, and preoccupied with his unmet childhood needs, he develops a pattern of savage lust murders of attractive women – especially those who reject him.  At knifepoint he courts them, leading them through a ghoulish ritual.  This portrayal is actually quite sophisticated in its interweaving of past trauma and current preoccupation with efforts to prove self-worth.  Again, it is unfortunate that the character of the psychologist, “Alex Ha,” was not used to more effect.
As Sha-Sha attempts to visualize the killer in her waking state, her efforts are cynically revealed by the police in an effort to lure the killer out.  He obliges, and confronts Michiko at her home after she has taken a sleeping pill – thanks to the psychologist’s suggestion.  She’d have been a lot better off without him!  This fight is extremely well done, blending the killer’s ritual and Michiko’s sedative-impaired efforts to disrupt it.  The distinctive musical melody that forms part of the killer’s routine as he dances with his terrified victims remains vivid long after the final credits.  This is definitely one of Michiko’s strongest parts.
Favorite line (Michiko):  “I feel contradiction itself.”

A3.5, B3.5, C4, D3, E3, F4 (21).  Highly Recommended

“Raiders of Loesing Treasure” (aka “Thunder Mission,” 1992)

How can so many ninjas perform so incompetently?  They do, at least, succeed in killing an unarmed attorney alone in his office.  This low budget Taiwanese film manages to pack in more action sequences than most, yet somehow they mostly fall flat.  Compounding the lack of martial skill are scenes such as that in which Michiko and her screen half-sister actually pause mid-fight to resolve their family differences while the action rages around them!

The film’s premise rests on a sexist bet by three male interior decorators concerning who can date the first woman they meet.  This happens to be Michiko’s character “Annie Wang.”  She appears in slow motion, a vision of loveliness wearing a formal suit, fully accessorized, with flowing hair.  It has been claimed that the budget for this film was so low that Michiko supplied her own wardrobe.  If so, it’s a testament to her good taste, and one of the better aspects of the film.

Annie Wang is the director of a software company who lives with her mother.  Her company becomes the target of a Japanese terrorist group, played by familiar Taiwanese action actors.  It turns out that Annie’s half-sister “Hsian” is married to “Suzuki” – the Japanese terrorist mastermind.  By the movie’s close, Hsian discovers Suzuki’s treachery and is reunited with Annie.

Much of the film is taken up with the mildly comic antics of one of the interior decorators “Shin” (Alex Fong) who, encouraged by his adoptive father (Wu Ma), attempts to seduce Annie.  She needs protection from the terrorist attacks, and Shin’s kung fu skills help save the day and win the girl.  Perhaps Annie could have thought to call the police instead.

Compounding this stereotype is the caricatured portrayal of Annie’s female assistant, driver and bodyguard “Little Pepper” as the butt of sexist “humor.”  An apparently competent martial arts performer, she’s also required to endure dating jokes and establish her toughness by out-drinking the males.

There are nevertheless several solid fight sequences along the way.  Wearing a tight skirt and heels, Michiko fights off a gang of assailants on a flight of stairs, displaying powerful punching and kicks as well as impressive gymnastics.  Later, Michiko performs a kip on a car roof.  Both women show strong martial arts moves, but it’s not as fast or spectacular as the best of the genre.

The various elements – being attacked in the office, a car fire-bombed, Annie’s mother being killed, a nocturnal raid on an arms cache – are fair but formulaic.  They have been performed too often in other films.  The final fight is predictable and lacking tension, although Michiko throws some great kicks – noticeably higher than usual, with some powerful roundhouse and hook kicks.  Both she and her assistant Little Pepper are the ones to watch, and credit is due to the latter performer – not only for her solid martial arts skills but also for her ability to generate elements of a screen partnership with Michiko’s character.  No other female actor achieved this.

However, the closing scene sums up the very conventional nature of this film.  Three of the male and three of the female heroes survive.  They immediately pair up.

Favorite line (Suzuki):  “Jerks, you can’t even handle two women.”

A3, B3, C2, D2, E2.5, F2 (14.5).  Fight Scenes