Widow Warriors

In this family drama/girls with guns film, the males (Michael Chan, Phillip Chan, Ken Lo and Shek Kin) in a  triad family are betrayed and gunned down by a rival gang and the women in the family - from the matriarch to the youngest - decide that rather than sit around and mourn their men that they will extract revenge. This is HK after all.
Michiko Nishawaki and the Matriarch
The film is surprisingly brutal at times and the women certainly get as much as they give. Elizabeth Lee has the Michael Corleone role - fresh from abroad - kept out of the family business for her own protection but forced by circumstances to do whatever has to be done to protect the rest of the family. Two of the other widows are Kara Hui Ying-Hung and Michiko Nishiwaki and they also get their pound of flesh. It takes a while to get everything set up, but once it moves into high gear it has some excellent action scenes and some unexpected and at times unpleasant twists.

My rating for this film: 6.5


Review by YTSL

It is one of the more bemusing as well as amusing things about Hong Kong films that their English and Chinese titles can differ as much as they often do.  Sometimes, the Chinese designation can be more revealing than the English one (Compare and contrast “Seize Life Beauty” and “The Lady in Black” for a 1986 revenge drama starring Brigitte Lin).  For others, it is the reverse, at least for those who aren’t in the cultural know (On the Hong Kong Film Critics Society web site, it’s been written re the Chinese title of “He’s a Woman, She’s a Man”:  “For those who are still wondering why the hell it's called “Gold Branch Jade Leaf”, it's simply a common term used to describe female aristocracy”!).

Although the Chinese title of “Tiger Courage Daughter Red” may seem somewhat obscure, this (re)viewer must say that she prefers it to its English WIDOW WARRIORS.  For one thing, I would not otherwise have known for sure that the male members of the large family -- which includes an unofficial second wife of the patriarch and her (but not his) teenage daughter -- whose members are individually introduced at the beginning of the film would be decimated before the end of the movie for which Manfred Wong (best known for his similar involvement in the “Young and Dangerous” series) was the producer and scriptwriter.  As it was, I was gripped with too much tension regarding their inevitable violent deaths and consequently neither able to enjoy what happy family scenes there were early during the film nor really care about the little quarrels that were going on between some of the female relatives.

Perhaps those who are not new to Hong Kong movies would have guessed before too long anyway that the cast of this not very big budget production was too large to not have its number soon get decreased.  As it was, I initially had a few problems trying to figure what status different individuals had within the family.  I also wasn’t too sure for a while which roles the movie’s four better known actresses (Elizabeth Lee, Tien Niu, Kara Hui Ying-Hung and Michiko Nishiwaki) were playing.  Once the women sprung into action though, that became very clear!
Michiko and Kara
As befits her being the most experienced woman warrior in this revenge movie’s cast, Kara Hui (whose character is the wife/widow of the second son in the family) has by far the most impressive and acrobatic moves as well as is accorded the most extended fighting time of anyone in WIDOW WARRIORS.  The character played by Japanese action actress, Michiko Nishiwaki, not only gets introduced by her husband (the third son) to his returning -- from law studies in England -- sister as being a karate expert but also looked great handling something akin to a samurai sword.  Meanwhile, it was the lot of the movie’s two lead actresses, Elizabeth Lee and Tien Niu (the former plays the lawyer daughter; the latter portrays her step mother-aunt figure; neither are particularly noted for their martial arts abilities...) to undergo the most battering along with being the ones who could only wreck major havoc with the aid of guns and other easier to handle -- by Hong Kong action movie standards! -- weapons.
WIDOW WARRIORS features plenty of exciting action but also possesses quite a bit of moving melodramatic moments (there is a particular strong scene in which Tien Niu’s up until then conservative-looking character takes off her blouse in somewhat public space to reveal her triad tattoos to her rebellious daughter as evidence that she has been on the path which she is loath for her daughter to take) along with a rather interesting story (which is as full of twists as players). Although this 1989 effort doesn’t pack quite the emotional punch of the more star-powered (Carina Lau, Tony Leung Kar Fai, Sandra Ng and Sammo Hung feature in it along with Joyce Godenzi) 1990 “She Shoots Straight”, IMHO it has the more impressive physical performances and a much more intense -- and consequently cathartic -- climactic battle.  All told, it is one of the better female revenge dramas I’ve seen; full of women who as far away from being pathetic as one can imagine, battlers and survivors in a world portrayed as generally bleak and violent but also full of loyal and firm familial bonds.
Elizabeth Lee and Tien Niu

My rating for the film:  7.5.