Lethal Angels (Review)

Lethal Angels

aka Mor gwai tin si

Directed and written by Wai-Man Cheng

Hong Kong used to have some of the best action films in the world. Than the bottom fell out of the industry, due to several factors (a rash of bad films, talent leak to the US, influx of flash over substance, etc.) and terrible junk began streaming from Hong Kong like diarrhea from a sick newborn. The problem was compounded due to the rise of South Korea as a cinematic powerhouse about the same time. Still, Hong Kong kept coming out with horrid junk such as Naked Weapon and soon their films became irrelevant. But then as few good films such as Infernal Affairs and Shaolin Soccer caught on in the US. Inspired, a few films from Hong Kong dared to increase in quality. There was still plenty of junk, but now the junk flew less freely, and moments of actual good filmmaking crept in. Still, moments of weakness are rampant, and films like this thrive in those moments. An unmemorable action thriller in the same veins as Naked Killer and Naked Weapon, Lethal Angels even was tentatively titled Naked Avengers and at one point. It now sports a title that is a throwback to earlier female action films, back when they all had “Angel” in the title. Yet they all look like action masterpieces compared to this dreck (and some of them were action masterpieces, but that’s another article.)

Problems abound in Lethal Angels. From uncharismatic characters to lethargic action sequences, the excitement never seems to get going, stalled like my car’s engine in -30 degree weather. Even the gunplay gets dull, and the CG muzzle flashes are obviously fake and very distracting. Never try to make an action sequence where cartoons get plastered all over it at random. That’s your tip of the day. Female action is supposed to be sexy and exciting, not dull. How can you make it dull? And yet, time and time again, I encounter films that can’t put together an exciting action sequence to save their lives. This movie is DOA, watching it is lethal and you will become an angel.

Yoyo/Mango (Tin Sum as Tien Hsin) – Our heroine and female assassin is a mild-mannered girl who one day saw her entire family killed by the Triads after they found out she was going to watch Hitchcock’s Notorious and/or her dad was going to testify against them. After being saved by Winnie, joins the assassin squad until she runs into her former boyfriend, who is now a cop. So she turns good. Tien Hsin is probably best known over here for her minor role in The Duel, and with her making movies like this, that will be all she’s known for.
Winnie (Jewel Lee as Jewel Li Fei) – Madam Winnie is are archetype female assassin trainer who is a former assassin herself. She’s brought to life here by Jewel Lee, who played the role of one of the female assassins in Naked Weapon. The circle is now complete, the student is the teacher.
Emma (Cherrie Ying Choi-Yi as Cherrie In) – Her character has zero motivation, we know little to nothing about her or why she suddenly turns on her master. Yet she does, and also inexplicably winds up with Big Guts. Her character is deadly with a shovel, she must have worked at the Shaolin Temple as a gravedigger. Cherrie In has been in a lot of films the past few years. I’d list some but then I’d just steal the joy from those who like to Google. Okay, fine, Election and Rob-B-Hood.
Dora (Viva Wei as Wei Hua) – Her name is Dora, but she’s no explorer, she’s a crazy killer who will rip out your guts and hit a 9.5 on the Orgasm Scale while doing it. Don’t mess with this woman unless you like breathing through holes in your neck. Killed by a hail of cops bullets.
Macy (Meme Tian Pu-Jun) – The other evil girl also gets little back story, except how she was turned out by the evil Triad Big Eyes. She also is killed because she’s evil and they never win. Is never seen shopping at Macy*s.
Big Guts aka Darren (Jordan Chan Siu-Chun) – Veteran cop who is a big braggart. Ends up with Emma because sometimes you just gotta write a bad script. Jordan Chan is famous for the Young and Dangerous movies, and he was also in Haunted Office
Jet (Andy On Chi-Kit) – Young cop who knew Mango/YoYo before she became an assassin. Is single-handedly responsible for a Hitchcock film running for thirty years straight in Hong Kong due to all the girlfriends he takes. Can’t dance. Can’t play basketball. The only thing about him is the way he walks.

3 girls walk into a bar…

Okay, seriously, three girls walk into a bar, Dora, Emma, and Yoyo. This is a bar frequented by local Hong Kong thugs as well as undercover cops like Big Guts and Jet, who you may remember from the Roll Call earlier. Big Guts takes a break from watching a criminal named Charlie (Charlie, Angels, the jokes fly here) to go flirt with the girls, which also serves as an introduction to their names. It’s quick, easy, and even gives us some characterization. SciFi Channel movies should take note. The criminal Charlie is supposed to meet a Triad boss named Big Eyes (Triads are the mobsters of Hong Kong) and Big Eyes comes into the bar, only to take Dora into the back room for striptease action. Jet the cop spends all his time noticeably staring at Yoyo, while Dora’s not-that-sexy striptease continues. The film gives us its only brush with nudity thanks to Dora’s dance, so it isn’t a total loss. Dora herself seems to have had maybe one lesson in pole dancing before filming began, but as she’s a major character they couldn’t go recruiting out of the local strip club. Dora is also sporting two dragon tattoos, one on her belly and one on her back.

Staring at the nudity or even the tattoos can be lethal if you are Big Eyes, because Dora just strangled you and used a blade that flicked out of her heel to kill him off. She claims it was revenge because he killed a girl’s dad, raped her and forced her to be a hooker, and now he’s forgotten all about her. He didn’t even send her a Christmas card. Dora and Emma kill Big Eyes’s men using weapons in their lipstick and compact cases. Forget Mary Kay, this is Mary Kill! The director is really a big fan of making the women look like they are getting sensual pleasure from killing the men. I’m thinking someone has some sort of sexual dysfunction….

The next day the bar is a crime scene and Big Guts and Jet are looking it over. The Chief says they know it was the three girls, but with 20 closed circuit cameras, none got a good view of their faces, as if they planned it out in great detail. Plus, it would make the movie over too quickly if the police caught them right away. Big Guts remembers what perfume the girls were wearing because his nose is so accurate it can smell fragrances in a crowded, smelly, sweaty club. He goes to make face reconstructions back at the station, while Jet goes to bathroom and has a flashback!

FLASHBACK! Jet was student at school, who tried to impress a young Yoyo, who went by the name Mango back then. He also creepily stalks and photographs her! But it is his crazy basketball follies of dancing like a dork that wins her heart. She sends him IMs in the library and they agree to meet at movie – Hitchcock’s Notorious. She never shows up, that was five years ago, and Jet is still moping. Imagine how sad he’d be if they had gone on the date and then it didn’t go well.

Back at the ranch of hot female assassins, the three girls from before relax by the pool with assassin girl number four, Macy, who was the girl that Big Eyes ruined. She thanks then, and then all the girls thank Winnie, who is the Madam character running the assassination den. This is our first glimpse of Winnie, who organizes and plans their hits. She tells them their next target is a Triad boss named Bowen. Bowen works with his partner Bowell (famous for his movements) and is looking to retire soon. Bowen’s only weakness is his young daughter Sandy, so Yoyo will be sent in as a nurse to get access to the house. A mistress won’t work because Bowen is married to a woman named May. Yoyo will rob the safe in the house with sensitive documents and kill everyone, even the young daughter. Yoyo is worried about killing the child, but Winnie is insistent. Macy explains to Yoyo (and to us) that Winnie was once Bowen’s girl but he dumped her when she got pregnant. Yoyo and Emma still have doubts about killing the kid, but Dora and Macy seem nonchalant about killing a child.

FLASHBACK! Yoyo is Mango again, as this is a flashback, Okay? Her family is having a birthday party for the youngest daughter, while Mom is upset because Dad is testifying against some Triads. Everything is fine, the family is all happy….knife through the chest! A knife-welding Triad gang attacks the family!!! Everyone gets chopped up except for Mango, who runs for her life, but somehow manages to run from an apartment complex filled with witnesses to an isolated park where the Triads prepare to go to rapetown on her. That’s some weird zoning going on in Hong Kong. Suddenly the gang is showered with light. A car is there, but no driver. A ghost car? A Transformer? Nope! One by one all of the goons get nailed with flying chains with blades that wrap around their necks and kill them dead. The remaining Triad boss stares as the mysterious killer jumps on the hood of the car, it is Winnie wearing some skimpy clothes and a look like she’s gonna be ripping someone’s guts out with her bare hands. As Jewel Li has some actual martial arts choreography skills, she doesn’t look like she’s spazzing out on a club’s dance floor when she’s fighting like the rest of the girls will in the film. We get a fight with the Triad boss, but as the male actor isn’t a good fighter the scene is mostly Jewel Li showing off, and then the boss getting a chain around the neck and falling dead.

Mango wakes up in Winnie’s mansion, where outside Emma is getting a test of her aim. This involves Winnie shooting at her, and Emma pulling a knife out of her belt and throwing it accurately enough to knock the bullet out of the sky before it hits her. And she does just that, as this is a movie. Mango witnesses this.

Mango tells Winnie “Thank you for saving me” and Winnie replies: “I can’t save you. In the last resort, you must save yourself.” Wise words from the Yoda of the East. Winnie will spend most of this segment quoting random things that sound like they were culled from various B-movies, but somehow there was a loss of translation that turned wise words awkward. Or the writing sucks.

Mango asks for help to revenge, and Madam Winnie starts to hurt her to show her reality, asking if she’s ready. Mango agrees and now she’s an assassin named Yoyo. Except the movie jumps to training scenes but not a renaming scene, so Mango being reborn as Yoyo has no emotional impact at all. Not only is the opportunity missed, but I’m not even sure the writers were aware of its existence.

Training of the four assassins by Winnie gives us wise sayings such as “Guns are a kind of good lethal weapon” who then throws decks of cards into the air and demands they shoot the aces – and they do. The girls have various pieces of makeup accessories that become bladed weapons, such as lipstick and compacts.

Madam tells them to use men’s sexual desires to kill them, except the first shot of one of the girls using desire to kill someone is the girl just walking past them without the target even looking at her. After that, the editor caught on and we get shots of girls making out with guys before killing them with their random makeup weapons. Winnie also gives Yoyo a gift – the guy who tried to rape her, chained up, and injected with a stimulant that makes him ten times stronger (and also clawed fingernails and toenails for some reason!) I think the stimulant is Monstertosterone(TM). Yoyo beats him up in a longish fight. Why have this scene? Because these films always have the Madam character give her trainee assassin girl some pervert to beat up during training. You couldn’t get any more cliché if you had assassin girl fall in love with a cop…whoops! The only thing this film forgot is the former trainee of the Madam character who has turned against her mistress and new assassin girl has to take her down.

Yoyo is inserted as the new nanny for Bowen Bao’s daughter Sandy. Bowen’s partner Bowell (his movements are nothing to mess with!) starts to get his perv on for Yoyo, but Bowen tells him to keep it in his pants. Bowell is also banging Mrs. Bowen, because Bowell is true to his name. In addition to killing Bowen, they also need to get documents and money from Bowen’s safe, which is why they can’t just do a hit, because they need his fingerprints to open the safe. I don’t know why they can’t just chop off his hand, but that would mean the film is over after thirty minutes. I guess I do know why. When the police chief comes to warn Bowen of rumors of betrayals in his ranks (which Bowen dismisses) Yoyo slips Jet a note, so they can meet at another screening of Hitchcock’s Notorious. YoYo tells him she didn’t want him to be another victim so she disappeared. He tries to warn her off of Bowen, but she blows him off, and not in the sexual way. Winnie picks her up from the theater and smacks her around for daring to have feelings for a man, who are all jerks.

Cops Jet and Big Guts are apparently roommates as well, as they live together. Big Guts has porn where clothed women shake their butts slowly and he mentions a plot involving plumbers. I think I’ve seen that one. Jet leaves but Big Guts meets two hot women at the door…wait a minute, it’s Dora and Macy! They try to kill him and Jet, but Jet isn’t home. Jet returns to save the day, sort of, as now everyone struggles and an extended action sequence ensues, involving both the cops getting beat up and then running from the shooting women, only to be saved by a car driven by Yoyo and Emma. In this sequence the guns have muzzel flashes put in digitally in post production, but it is distracting because they didn’t do a good job of it.

At a hideout, Big Guts’s injuries are fixed by Emma. He tries to impress her by showing her scars but she reveals she’s seen Lethal Weapon 3. Finally, a Hong Kong film willing to admit when it rips off a bit. Yoyo and Jet get it on, Lethal Angels style! Which apparently involves no nudity and no passion. The next morning she’s gone, like some bad movie…oh. The girls return to Winnie due to bad writing, and she yells at them for betraying her for a man. Or two men. One Emma hadn’t even met. Why did they return again? Winnie tells Yoyo she must do one more thing for her, Bowen is announcing he is going to retire as a Triad tomorrow, so it is time to kill him and his buddies. Emma’s punishment isn’t more work, it’s drugs, and then Dora takes her to where she’s chained up and beaten by some of Winnie’s gang (some of which happen to be men in a bit of complete disregard for character.) Emma is then going to be buried alive by two men, who decide to rape her first, just because. Emma kills one with a razor sharp ring to the neck (they didn’t bother to rob her first?) and kills the second with a flying shovel. Seriously. It’s actually the best over the top sequence in the film, so here it is for all you wondering if anything good can come from this mess.

The gangster party looks like any Hong Kong gangster film party, which is sad because I wished it was a gansta party, with Bloods and Crips and rollin’ dice and 40’s and Ho’s. Well, there are Ho’s, the standard Triad girls that the suited Triads bring along to these parties, some of which are Dora, Macy, and Winnie. They poison the wine and have a toast, but as Bowen can’t drink alcohol he only has some tea. Dora seduced Bowell to the bathroom, where she kills him with a razor blade that was hidden in her mouth, despite the fact they had been locking lips for several minutes. Just where was she hiding it? So, he’s dead.

Then the poison kicks in an everyone dies, all at the exact same time. Except Bowen, Mrs. Bowen, Yoyo, Winnie, Dora, Macy, and the child Sandy. So everyone whose character didn’t have a spoken part is dead. Winnie demands Bowen open his safe, or his wife will die. Winnie also reveals she was the woman he tried to kill seven years ago. FLASHBACK to a young Bowen kicking a pregnant lady. Kick her, Bowen! Kick that fetus! Bowen is all in shock because he’s stupid or something, and the safe is emptied. Winnie then says she’s killing his family as revenge, since he killed hers. It’s a 32nd trimester abortion for Sandy, it seems, but not yet, as Bowen’s wife says she is also stabbing Bowen in the back and he is naive. Macy then stabs Mrs. Bowen in the back, literally, and says “You’re also native.” Native!?!? Nice subtitle work there, guys! Don’t be a native in the world of Lethal Angels. Bowen is sworded by Winnie, and his dying request is that Yoyo save Sandy. Well, Sandy was obnoxious and I am happy to see her brought in sobbing by Dora to die. Kill her, KILL HER! Oh, wait, Yoyo saves her because this film is weak sauce. Make with the child death!

Saving the annoying kid (who then bolts off) causes a fight between the women where Yoyo and the rest do a lot of spinning and kicking and knife fighting. Winnie leaves to chase down Sandy, and the cops arrive outside. Not soon enough, as Macy gets a knife thrown in her stomach and goes down like clearance prices at an actual Macy*s store. Shop at Macy*s today and don’t forget to get a Macy*s card for a 10% discount. Tell them Tars Tarkas sent you! I’ll also mention that the fight choreography here is about on par to Britney Spears dancing at the MTV video awards. Lethargic, half-assed, and just some random stumbling around. Yoyo is wounded, and then Dora and the not quite dead Macy are both gunned down by the cops as they lunge to kill Yoyo. Winnie escapes, because we need a scene at the hospital later where a nurse-disguised Winnie sneaks into Yoyo’s room to try to kill her and Jet, only to be killed by Yoyo. Which happens. Yoyo and Emma go to jail for ten years.

The movie ain’t over yet, you see. They want a happy ending, so it is now ten years later. Big Guts runs into Emma on the street, and it is love despite no one aging at all and ten years of jail going by. Jet is at another screening of Hitchcock’s Notorious and Yoyo sits next to him. He can finally watch the end of the movie. I refuse to believe that Notorious played in theaters in Hong Kong for 15 years straight. Hong Kong must love them some Alfred Hitchcock.

Well, that’s it, this movie is pretty meh. The only thing I really got when watching it was a yearning to go see Notorious, which is one of the few Hitchcock film’s I’ve not seen. Maybe I’ll track down a copy now. I sure won’t be wasting my time rewatching Lethal Angels, which can go sit in the mediocre Hong Kong action pile and vanish into time. I’m reminded of the old MST3k quote from Overdrawn At the Memory Bank: “Never put a good movie in the middle of your crappy movie.” Never would I think that this statement would be applicable to another film.

Rated 3/10 (Tattoo, Bowel, Bowen)

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Written by Tars Tarkas

Tars Tarkas

Runs this joint!