“Avenging Quartet, The” (1993)

(Art Dragon Film Production [HK] Co., Dir. Stanley Wing Siu)

After “Hsiong” (Waise Lee) – a wanted criminal facing a death sentence – saves “Chin” (Cynthia Khan), who is a Mainland police officer, during a bungled drug raid, she travels to HK in passionate search of him.  There she runs into “Lui Chai Feng” (Moon Lee) who, unknown to her, is also in love with Hsiong.  It turns out that Hsiong also had some criminal involvement with Feng’s recently deceased brother, who is survived by his widow “Seihaji Sen” (Michiko).

All three principal female characters fantasize about Hsiong.  After he fakes his own death in HK, both Chin and Feng search for him for romantic reasons, not realizing they are both in love with the same man.  Sen, however, has been beaten and mutilated by her husband on account of her prior involvement with Hsiong, and vows revenge.  She is depicted undressing, showing her scarred back, while uttering “Hsiong, I must ruin you myself.”
Sen’s opportunity for revenge comes in the form of “Oshima” (Yukari Tsumura), a right-wing Japanese agent sent to retrieve an incriminating document concerning Japanese war crimes against China, concealed under a painting.  Hsiong has this in his possession, but initially tries to sell her a fake.  After a brief but superb confrontation with Oshima in a private gymnasium, the two Japanese women join forces (Michiko:  “I’m Japanese too!  We have the same aim”).  Sen’s gang then snares Hsiong and Chin at their hideout.

In a remarkably brutal scene Sen exacts her revenge by beating and humiliating Hsiong, forcing him to watch while her men cut and rape Chin.  It’s an unusually powerful portrayal of suffering by Cynthia Khan.  When Feng and “Paul” – an HK cop assigned to protect Feng and Chin – show up, the stage is set for a violent, climactic confrontation in a burning building.

Michiko, at the top of her form, out-powers Cynthia Khan and Waise Lee – using her sheer muscularity to launch into a kip.  She looks fast and dangerous.  In the end, after stabbing Chin with a metal rod, Sen is stabbed to death by Feng.  Oshima dies in the fire, felled by a collapsing beam, while Hsiong is shot to death by the police as Chin lies dying in his car.  Feng is the sole survivor.

Michiko has several intimate scenes in which she teases, then slaps her male partners.  In one she is languishing, half undressed, on a sofa.  In another she allows one of her men (a gwailo) to kiss and caress her before slapping him and snapping “Get lost.”  This sensual contact triggers an apparent flashback to her own physical abuse.  In addition to this interesting touch, Michiko expresses considerable venom toward both Hsiong and Feng – the perceived agents of her distress.  During her encounters with Feng she’s barely civil, and slaps her face.  Michiko’s glittering eyes convey extraordinary menace.

Unfortunately, what starts as a solid drama with an unusual premise and superb cast loses its way meandering through the territory of light comedy and romance.  Michiko does not have sufficient screen time to fully develop her part, although the tension between her and just about everyone else (including fellow-Japanese Oshima) is almost palpable.  The action climax is certainly well up to the standards of all the principal performers, but the action is sparse before this.

A2, B4, C4, D2.5, E3, F2.5 (18).  Recommended

“Big Circle Blues” (1993)

(Sing Po Film Production Co.)

This dreary Taiwanese crime drama traces the fate of four bandits fleeing from a crime spree in HK.  Somehow the Chuan gang pilots a small outboard-powered boat to Taiwan, then attempts to fence their stolen jewels.  After being cheated of a fair price they engage in a gang war, retaliating by killing the mobsters they have been dealing with and stealing their drugs.  It is almost impossible to develop any sympathy for these characters.  One of them is a rapist who sexually assaults two of their female hostages, while the movie opens with the gang’s gratuitous (and unexplained) killing of a child.

Unfortunately, it is almost as difficult to sympathize with the characters of the police either.  Michiko’s character “Show-Yun” who is a police officer in pursuit from HK and Mark Cheng’s Taiwanese cop “Wei” are constantly at loggerheads, with juvenile one-upmanship.  Wu Ma attempt to keep the peace as their Chief, as Wei physically barges in front of Show-Yun, or insults her with remarks such as “It won’t work getting dressed like a prostitute” – one of two such egregious insults.  These and other sexist behaviors are truly unpleasant.
Perhaps the lowest moment occurs after the gang interrupt one of their number during an attempted rape.  As the victim sits shocked and weeping on her bed, one of the gang offers comfort to another male gang member who is upset by what has occurred!  He observes “She’s just a woman.  So why serious?”  With such attitudes it is impossible to sympathize with the gang members, yet their hopes and efforts comprise the bulk of the film.
After a series of confrontations on Taiwanese soil that fail to yield a big score, the gang is eventually betrayed to the police.  Show-Yun and Wei impulsively confront them.  Wei is almost bested until he shoots and wounds his rival, while Show-Yun is injured.  This paves the way for a hospital bed reconciliation in which Wei brings flowers and proposes a date!  The fight scenes are not especially well choreographed.  When the gang flees to a rural farmhouse, it is only a matter of time before they are surrounded and killed in a final confrontation that is predictable and lacking dramatic effect.
Michiko performs competently, although she has rather little to do other than bicker with Mark Cheng.  This being one of her later appearances she looks a little more lined, a little older, but relaxed and confident.

Favorite line (Michiko):  “Even if I’m hurt.  I don’t need your help.”

A2, B2, C2, D2, E2, F1.5 (11.5).

“City On Fire” (1993)

This otherwise routine low-budget Taiwanese crime drama about two feuding gang bosses is punctuated by several episodes of graphic physical and sexual violence.  Mark Cheng plays a police officer who disowns his alcoholic brother “Jay” when he finds employment with one of the gangs – first training dogs for illegal dog fights, then as a bodyguard.  Jay is actually working as an undercover cop, but Cheng’s character is unaware of this until it is too late.

In the same gang another bodyguard “Chang” is infatuated with the boss’s daughter.  Although he is spared when he attempts to assault her, he later returns to kill her father and rape and kill her.  The distasteful nature of content such as statements like “All women are the same” during a sexual assault is compounded by mediocre direction of the shootouts.
Michiko has an expanded cameo role as Cheng’s partner, and possible girl friend “Chia-Chi.”  Many of these low budget movies seem to use frequent costume changes as distraction for the absence of drama or plot.  This is no exception.  Michiko appears beautifully attired in a variety of Western and Asian fabrics and clothing styles.  She’s very pleasing to look at, but doesn’t have much to do beyond a couple of brief fight scenes.  These are done quite competently.  Her principal role appears to be as narrator, by asking questions or musing aloud – in case the audience is unable to follow the story line.
Favorite line (Mark Cheng to Michiko):  “I can’t figure you out.”

A2, B3, C2, D2, E2, F1.5 (12.5).

“Fatal Seduction” (1993)

“Chun Ti” is a young man sent by his dying father to work for his “Uncle Eh” in HK.  After some time he encounters his cousin “Paul.”  Both have problems with their spouses.  Ti’s wife “Lily” is portrayed as jealous and suspicious, while Paul’s philandering risks alienating his wife “Feng.”  She is played by a Taiwanese porn star, and the film features several gratuitous soft-core scenes.

Although much of this low budget film is consumed with talk or comedy scenes, two dramatic threads are interwoven.  To cover his gambling debts Eh borrows from a loan shark, then seeks to mortgage the family business.  He need’s Ti’s signature, but Lily’s wiser counsel prevails.  Eh brings in a sorcerer to influence Lily.

In the meantime Paul has convinced Ti to use the same sorcerer in an attempt to cast a spell that will make Lily subordinate to him.  When she discovers the plot, she and Feng retaliate.  Feng acts seductively toward the sorcerer, and accidentally discovers both his conniving with Eh and previous involvement in the murder of Ti’s father.

Eh and the sorcerer kidnap Feng and put a spell on Lily – first making her hypersexual, then infesting her with maggots.  Ti and Paul seek assistance from Michiko who, attired in traditional garb, defends the Western Temple.  She uses her witchcraft to combat the sorcerer, as well as physically defeating him and his assistant in an excellent sword-wielding confrontation that is unfortunately augmented by wirework.  Earlier she has another excellent fight cameo with two other temple guards, displaying athleticism, rapid kicking combinations and a kip-up.

In the climax both Eh and Feng are killed.  Lily is healed, but Paul grieves for his deceased, unappreciated partner.  Despite some above average cameos and genuinely uncomfortable moments, this low budget Taiwanese film tends to be predictable and lacking in dramatic tension.  Rather than borrowing the daring elements of Cat. III, it seems to have imported only the formula.

Favorite line (Sorcerer):  “That bitch dare to stand against me.”

A2, B3, C2, D2, E2, F2 (13).  Fight Scenes

“Hero Dream” (1993)

(Super Power Motion Picture Co.)

Mainly set in Thailand, this Cat. III film combines graphic sexuality with action ranging from the ludicrous to the highly vicious, in a gratuitous, uncomfortable yet compelling brew.  A Hong Kong police detective “Hao” (Chin Siu Ho) takes his wife (Carrie Ng) on a vacation to Thailand where she is kidnapped by the Chiu Gang and murdered.  His partner “Chuen” is corrupt and secretly working with “Yi” (Michiko) – a Thai crime boss who appears to control a gang of transsexuals who work in the Bangkok sex industry.  Yi spends most of her screen time lounging in a bikini or having sex with subordinate males on the lawn in front of her audience of transsexuals – who periodically imitate her.  When angered she takes out her rage by kicking them to the ground.  Yi’s character communicates selfish decadence.  When one of her hapless partners climaxes prematurely she shoots him a withering look and rakes him with sarcasm and menace:  “Why shouting!  You do enjoy life.”

It turns out that a stolen drug shipment was planted in Hao’s wife’s luggage at the airport.  The Chiu Gang suspects Yi’s gang.  In fact, one of Yi’s transsexuals “Fa” who is responsible for the robbery has fallen in love with Hao.  While searching for his wife Hao inadvertently triggers a full-fledged gang war in which his partner Chuen is killed by Yi.  When she discovers his treachery she shoots him, then delivers a stunning combination of knee strike to the stomach, a side kick, roundhouse kick, then spinning hook kick.  Several larger scale gun battles veer between parody and the grotesque.
From the opening credits this movie is peppered with numerous sex scenes.  In places these include relatively graphic depictions of genitalia.  The plot is confusing, but does feature a fine cameo by Sophia Crawford (who utters the single oath “Shit!” before being shot to death).  Overall, the subject matter is raw, graphic, and in places extreme.  In Yi, Michiko’s performance may represent the apotheosis of two character threads running throughout her films – the sensual exhibitionist and sadistic femme fatale.  However dubious the subject matter here, Michiko’s performance commands attention.

A2.5, B3, C4, D2.5, E3, F3 (18).  Highly Recommended

“Whore and Policewoman” (1993)

(Open Ocean Movie Television Video Tape Production Co., Dir. Wong Kwok Chu)

This Thai production leans heavily toward sexual violence, featuring no less than three aggressive sexual assaults.  The first is a grim, sadistic whipping of a sex worker “Nana” followed by torture with a snake, performed by a masked assailant.  He is actually a popular politician “Kao Tien Chin,” (Charley Cho) who covers his crime by having Nana killed in hospital and attempting to have her roommate murdered.  This sex worker, “May Lin,” is the sole witness.  While on the run she telephones Prosecutor “Yin Li Shin” (Kwan Hoi San) who assigns his niece, policewoman “Nancy Chang” (Michiko), to pick up and escort May Lin from her rural hideout.  In this film Michiko appears very plainly attired, wearing a baggy, oversized trench coat.  Her part occupies the middle third of the film.

May Lin and Nancy Chang narrowly escape several additional murder attempts by Kao’s men.  When Michiko is shot, May must decide whether to save her or herself.  She saves Michiko and extracts the bullet in a fairly graphic scene.  The two of them snap at each other with ill humor, Nancy complaining about May’s life choices and May complaining about her lack of opportunities.  They are eventually bonded by a common sexual assault.  Four motorcycle-riding hoodlums subdue the wounded Nancy and attempt to rape her.  May saves her yet again by voluntarily submitting.  It’s an ugly, degrading scene that reflects the pain of sexual violence and the suffering of sex workers.
After considerable over-acting by May and generally lackluster action scenes, the way is cleared for Michiko and her co-star to develop a screen partnership.  But, apart from some unusually reflective musing in a hotel room, this does not occur and Michiko’s part unexpectedly peters out on return to Bangkok.  Even the women’s revenge against the bikers lacks the credibility and emotional force that would be warranted, and the final fight against Kao and his henchmen only leads to an arrest.  As a result the film is seriously unbalanced.  The violence against women is portrayed all too explicitly, while their retaliation is blunted by comic elements or understatement.
Michiko’s fight scenes do feature her customary athleticism, plus some impressive sweep kicks and a kip-up.  Despite this movie’s serious drawbacks, it does provide Michiko with her longest sustained screen time, with ample opportunity to display her range of acting skill.  This, alone, recommends it.

Favorite line (to Michiko):  “You’re more stubborn than stones in a toilet!”

A3, B3, C3, D1.5, E2, F2 (14.5).  Recommended