She Shoots Straight

Reviewed by YTSL

Anyone whose view of Hong Kong women continues to be shaped by "The World of Suzie Wong" and thinks that Asian females are passive as well as impassive ought to see or be shown this action-packed movie.  And until Hollywood comes out with something comparable to this feisty yet melodramatic women-studded production (as well as the likes of the pioneering "Yes Madam!", the amazing "Peking Opera Blues" and the glamorous "The Heroic Trio"), I remain unconvinced that the country from which so much feminist writing emanates is more "equal opportunity" gender-wise than those in "the Patriarchal East".  This is even more so upon learning that SHE SHOOTS STRAIGHT's storyline closely follows a famous Sung Dynasty story about The Yeung Family Female Soldiers.  But enough cultural politicking and feminist critiquing.  And on with the movie reviewing proper...

Any which way you look at it, SHE SHOOTS STRAIGHT has butt-kicking, pistol-packing, weapon-wielding women galore.  And they appear in the varied forms of single, married and widowed, young and old, with child as well as not, "good" and "bad", females at that.  We're talking a whole family -- matriarch (played by Dang Pik-wan), four cop daughters (the eldest of whom comes in the unrestrained form of Carina Lau and the youngest of whom appears to be the perky Sandra Ng) and a daughter-in-law (Mina is played by the striking looking Joyce Godenzi) who is being fast-tracked through the ranks of the Royal Hong Kong Police, apparently at the expense of her husband (portrayed by Tony Leung Kar Fai) -- here along with a requisite villainess.

Of course, they feature and are involved in plenty of action that pits them against their fellow women as well as men.  While the end brawl between the main heroine (in a lot of ways, one can see that this movie was meant to showcase Joyce Godenzi) and the chief criminal's girlfriend (who comes in the form of the muscular Agnes Aurelio) has been described by the awed authors of "Sex and Zen & A Bullet in the Head" as "more macho than anything Steven Seagal or Chuck Norris has ever put on film" (Stefan Hammond and Mike Wilkins, 1996:63), IMHO, there are two other fight sequences -- one at a fashion show(!) featuring Mina's sister-in-laws; the second on a boat featuring twin knife-wielding Ka Ling (a very scared-but-determined-looking Carina Lau!) along with gun-toting Mina -- in the movie that actually overshadow it.
Mina and Yuen Wah
What really distinguishes this worthy effort from the many others in the "Girls with Guns" or "Nail-Polished Fists" genre though is its possession of a particularly intense emotional "feel" and relational subplots.  Not many action films -- even those highlighting fighting femmes -- start off with a wedding party, the posing for and taking of a family photograph, and bickering in between (as to who is really family and what marriage means)!  Nor are they liable to feature a banquet to celebrate a mother's birthday that ends up having really moving bonding moments.  Nor would their makers be able to so competently weave together these and (many) other (melo)dramatic scenes into what would otherwise be your standard police story-revenge movie.
Joyce and Carina
N.B. This very solid production undoubtedly benefits from the work and experience of three of the legendary Seven Fortunes of contemporary Hong Kong cinema:  Sammo Hung is the film's co-producer as well as having a small acting role (as an honorary member of the movie's amazing on-screen family); Corey Yuen Kwai is its director; and Yuen Wah efficiently -- as always! -- inhabited the role of the head villain.
Carina, Mother and family, Sammo and family

My rating for the film:  7.5.

Reviewed by Brian

This incredibly intense film almost appears to be a family drama disguised as a girls with guns flick – or perhaps it’s the reverse – but either way the film is a strong emotional mix of drama and action that should keep you riveted to your seat.

It revolves around the Huang family, which comprises of five cops – four of them women – and their strong mother. The son (Tony Leung Ka Fai) marries an outsider – yet another policewoman (Joyce Godenzi) – and this greatly disturbs the balance within the family. In particular Carina Lau is virulently against the marriage and it is her anger that sets off a chain of events that leads to some tragic results. Joyce is resented on two counts – she is advancing quicker through the force than her husband and then in a powerful scene it is revealed that much of the resentment has to do with her being of mixed blood.

Carina, Tony Leung and Mina
This last point is fairly intriguing in that Joyce “Mina” Godenzi is of mixed blood – Australian and Chinese – and one has to wonder if this did in fact greatly hinder her movie career in HK. Like many actresses before her she was discovered by entering the Miss Hong Kong beauty contest and was offered a few roles after that. Her major break came when Sammo Hung offered her a job in his film Eastern Condors in which her smallish role of a Cambodian guerilla is simply astonishing in its intensity. Deadly China Dolls reports her saying of Sammo “Sammo is the least sexist film-maker in the world. He treats women just like men.” In She She Shoots Straight, Joyce again brings a real intense presence to the film – and an amazing physically grueling performance. The fact that before going into acting she had no martial arts training is hard to believe after seeing her in a few films. Some of the action that she is clearly performing in this film is simply astounding. But surprisingly, she only made some dozen films over her career – and one has to wonder whether prejudices about her mixed parentage had something to do with this. She did of course marry Sammo – so it isn’t a tragic tale by any means!

So though the inter-family dynamics has some powerful elements (one scene in particular between mother, daughters and Joyce is incredibly emotional) – underneath it all lies a great girls with guns film that has some absolutely splendid action scenes – and intense action scenes. The film begins with one in which the sisters and Joyce have to protect a visiting Princess at a fashion show and in a kidnapping attempt both Joyce and Carina blow away a number of the bad guys – but then Joyce has to chase some others down on a motorcycle.

There are other great action scenes later – Yuen Wah has a good one on his own – but this all leads to the ending in which Joyce and Carina go after Wah and his many men on board a ship. The two of them are thrilling to watch. I can’t think of too many films in which I have seen Carina do action but she is very credible here – but even more so incredibly cathartic as she takes two machetes and cuts her way through a bloody swathe of bad guys. And then just to top it all off – Joyce and Filipino actress Agnes Aurelio square off in a classic girl on girl fight.
Joyce and Agnes
All I can say is that this film was a great way to start off the new millennium. It has much of everything I love about HK films in it – great female roles, topnotch action – but most important is simply the heart and emotional resonance of this film.

Sammo both produced the film and has a small role in which he has only a few moments of action against Yuen Wah and a few of his minions.

My rating for this film: 8.5

Reviewed by Yves Gendron

SHE SHOOTS STRAIGHT is the fighter female actioner that Sammo Hung produced in which he showcases his then paramour and future wife, Eurasian actress Joyce Mina Godenzi, with the intent of making an action star out of her. He most certainly didn't do things with half measures, hiring as director/action director his Peking opera brother Corey Yuen (who had done for him the fighting female seminal classic YES MADAM earlier) and getting his other Peking Opera brother Yuen Wah to provide menacing on-screen villainy. Sammo also hired a handful of seasoned mainstream actors that included Carina Lau, Tony Leung Kar-fai (Big Tony) and veteran actress Dang Bik Wan. Finally, he asked his regular screen-writer Barry Wong (who had already done: YES MADAM, RIGHTING WRONG and EASTERN CONDORS among others) to pen a plot based on the ancient Sung Dynasty tale of The Yeung Family Female Soldiers.

This gave the film a dramatic resonance unlike any others in this breed of film and making the narrative something more then a mere functional set-up for actions scenes. And so you have this story of policewoman Mina Ko marrying into a police family who is facing the hostility of some of her in-laws who resent her because she's being promoted faster than her husband and also because she's a "half breed"  - an canny dramatic use of Ms Godenzi's own Eurasian origin. At the same time, she is set against a vicious gang of Vietnamese criminals.

As a result, SHE SHOOTS STRAIGHT can arguably be considered as one of the more polished and accomplished movies of it's genre, with very good action scenes, sound drama, and appealing well defined characters. Yet the fact is that while having a clearly Eurasian heroine both married and dealing with the hostility of some of her in-laws are indeed very nice novelties, the film nonetheless still suffers somewhat badly from an overbearing melodramatic tone, acting histrionics typical of Hong Kong cinema, an evident obviousness to manipulate audience emotion and of course an over-reliance on done-to-death clichés such as the devious maniac revenge- seeking criminals and the pain in the ass police chief (made into a specially odious asshole here). It could also be said that the movie is trying too hard in its intent to "sell" Ms Godenzi not to the point of clumsy contrivance but enough to be too conspicuous for it's own good.

It is also all too obvious that Ms Godenzi needs a little bit of help to carry her in the fight scenes through utilization of quick cut editing, slow motion and the occasional wire-tricks. It's not that she lacks charisma and guts or that her fighting looks fake, quite the contrary the "special effects" are quite seamless and the action is superb but it's evident that Ms Godenzi is quite lacking in the intense physicality found in such action ladies as Michelle Yeoh or Yukari Oshima. All in all, these shortcoming do not undermine the movie all that much but they do make it, despite all the obvious talents, care, and effort that went into it, into pretty average fare, by Hong Kong action standards of course.

SHE SHOOTS STRAIGHT is sometimes given the alternative title LETHAL LADY in some areas, but this is no subtler than it's original one. Perhaps the most apt one is its Chinese title: THE HUANG FAMILY FEMALE SOLDIERS, openly referential to the ancient story that the film is based on. For the first two thirds of the movie the bulk of the action consists of gunplay and stunts and only at the very end do both Ms Godenzi and Carina Lau get down and dirty with hand to hand or machete fighting. The villains of the piece are a vicious trigger happy, mass murdering gang of criminal Vietnamese refugees, who are a suitable substitute for the Turkish tribes found in the Yeung Family Female Soldiers and also reflect the strong negative prejudice held against Vietnamese by Hong Kong inhabitants. This is doubly ironic considering that SHE SHOOTS STRAIGHT takes the groundbreaking step of offering a Eurasian heroine such a role and also because the bulk of Hong Kong’s populace is made-up of refugees and their descendants who forty years before fled a land in turmoil as did the Vietnamese in this film.

The female villain is being played by the imposing Agnes Aurelio who as an American Filipina does not make a very credible Vietnamese but with her large muscular frame and good moves makes a perfect nemesis for Ms Godenzi.  Powerful enough to be a menacing and challenging threat to her – and yet considering Ms Godenzi’s own actual limited physical capabilities, not enough of an acrobatic fast fighter to upstage her, which would surely have the case had she fought the film’s main villain instead, Yuen Wah, or a female opponent being played by the likes of Michiko Nishiwaki.

SHE SHOOTS STRAIGHT ended up being a notorious flop and a costly failure for Sammo ranking thirty-three at the local box-office chart in 1990. Yet the film was the highest ranking female actioner of the year, making twice as much as OUTLAW BROTHERS that featured Japanese nutcracker Yukari Oshima (rank:68) and nearly three time as much as the similarly themed WIDOW WARRIORS (93) which also has a tough matriarch looking over the family. They were likely not deemed as notorious duds though because they were average scale fare when compared to the high-end production of SHE SHOOTS STRAIGHT. The fact is that if the female action picture is a Hong Kong cinema established sub-genre, it remains a fairly marginal one, at least in the Territory itself, with a small following at best. Interestingly enough, for the record the top "female film" of the year was the comedy HER FATAL WAYS starring comic queen Carol "Do Do" Cheng as a thick- headed mainland policewoman visiting Hong Kong with Tony Leung as her screen partner.  Following the SHE SHOOTS STRAIGHT debacle, Sammo produced LICENCE TO STEAL with Mina playing a cat burglar. It failed badly too (rank: 78), so afterwards Ms Godenzi had to contend with supporting roles where she proved herself much more at ease such as the female villain in THE RAID and as a loony psychiatrist in Sammo's SLICKERS VS KILLERS. She retired from movies soon afterwards much to the chagrin of many dedicated fans. Mina and Sammo married in 1995.

In the end, although SHE SHOOTS STRAIGHT remains a disappointingly flawed production, it 's still quite well done and worthwhile. Crucially limited yes but still pretty intense on occasions.  Mina Godenzi is a knockout in every sense of the word, making us quite sorry that she was not given the opportunity to develop further.

My rating for this film: 6.5