aka Angel of Vengeance
Written by Nicholas St. John (as N.G. St. John)
Directed by Abel Ferrara
Ms. 45 is a genre classic, a required viewing exploitation film, and among the best rape and revenge movies ever made. Zoë Lund (then Zoë Tamerlis) is haunting as the mute Thana, whose life as a seamstress at a fashion house is shattered when she’s attacked by rapists twice on the same day. The second attack ends with Thana striking a blow atop the assailant’s head, killing him. At first horrified at what she’s done, Thana attempts to cover up his death, and takes the gun he leaves behind. Soon, her paranoia as she disposes of pieces of his dismembered corpse causes her to kill again.
Thana transforms from silent victim to silent avatar of death, walking the streets at night to become a target of attackers so she can eliminate them. As no one likes scummy rapists, Thana’s actions cause the audience to cheer for her, the excitement of seeing bad people punished mixes with the thrill of someone fighting back against her oppressors.
It soon becomes apparent that Thana’s search for vengeance has moved beyond rapists. She starts stalking a guy who is just making out with his girlfriend in the street. The target have moved from bad men to men in general, and by the end of the film she’s shooting every man she sees, indiscriminate of whether he is an awful person or not. The targets even go beyond human males, her landlady’s dog Phil (played by a dog named Bogey, which is too cool of a name not to mention) is aware that some sort of delicious rotting meat is in her apartment, and Thana attempts to eliminate him by taking him for a walk in heavy traffic. The audience sympathy begins to drain away like a leaky balloon. But Zoë Lund is just too charming, you can’t turn against her entirely even if she’s aiming a gun at your face. Thana’s rise and fall becomes another tale of power corrupting, her power of life and death corrupting her into a force that lashes out indiscriminately and becomes as bad as the people who turned her onto that path.
As fun as gunning down the guilty in the streets goes, who really should be the judge, jury, and executioner? Many of the men Thana shoots are not the nicest of guys, but haven’t committed capital crimes. They may treat their wives/girlfriends like crap, complain, and talk rowdy stuff, but is that worth death? Thana sees the worst in men, and many of the depictions of men in the movie are men who are only seen at their worst. How much of the view of how the male characters act is clouded by her perspective? It’s an extra layer of haze that may be present over the entire film, or may not exist at all. After all, as a man, I know how sick and twisted many men are.
The Heroic Trio
aka 東方三俠 aka Dong Fang San Xia
Written by Sandy Shaw Lai-King
Directed by Johnnie To Kei-Fung
Next up in Tars reviews classic examples of global cinema that he should have damn well reviewed years ago is The Heroic Trio. Instead of again explaining how this was one of the first couple of Hong Kong films I saw and how it cemented me into a lifelong fan of Hong Kong Action Cinema, I’ll just remind you with this sentence that dismisses the topic while reaffirming it.
Make no mistake, The Heroic Trio is an awesome and classic piece of Hong Kong cinema from the last golden age. Johnnie To directing before he became a film festival darling. The ever-amazing Anita Mui being the most glamorous and moral super hero imaginable. Maggie Cheung as the rebel outsider hero who never looks before she leaps, and whose antics cause worse problems than the ones she tries to solve. Michelle Yeoh as the conflicted hero forced to serve evil. Anthony Wong in a surprisingly restrained performance as an unhinged psychopath.
The Heroic Trio both riffs on and celebrates the glamor of cinema. Characters can often be found posed while events are going down, an off screen fan conveniently nearby to make their hair flow in the wind. They go so far as to have Thief Catcher bring along fashion clothes for the women to wear after the job is done so they’ll look extra spectacular, and shots of the women all doing their model walk as Cantopop sings us out. The obvious Western influences are the Batman films from Burton, but there is a heavy Terminator vibe going on as well. For a more inward look, the vast amount of girls with guns films helped position female-driven action films as a good idea, and some of the set design look straight out of Zu: Warriors from Magic Mountain. At one point a character uses a flying guillotine! The mixmash of films and ideas is one of the factors that makes Hong Kong film so great for the fans. Director Johnnie To lets the mood build not just with the actresses and their poses and expressions, but with a heavy use of Cantopop on the soundtrack, with Anita Mui showing why she was a legendary singing star at every note.
Johnnie To isn’t one to shy away from political metaphors, and The Heroic Trio is no exception. As 1997 and the turnover to China loomed in the minds of every Hong Kong citizen, it naturally became reflected in film. One reason why “Evil Master” seeks out male children is that one will be destined to become the new Emperor of China, under Evil Master’s control. Thus a return to Chinese rule would be a return to the olden days of Emperors, throwing out democratic rule. Mainland China is hardly a beacon of democracy, but the parallel is there. The fear is torn down by empowered women with fashion sense, who preserve the free way of life.
One of the problems with great looking HD releases of films is it makes the wires way more apparent than the second generation VHS tapes I first saw the films on. The Heroic Trio had some shots that you could see the wires on even then, but now things are far more obvious in giving away the magic. Still, someone going through and CGing out all the wires would lose some of the charm, so it’s time to learn to live with such things.
Categories: Bad, Movie Reviews Tags: Anita Mui Yim-Fong, Anthony Wong Chau-Sang, Damian Lau Chung-Yan, Hong Kong, Johnnie To Kei-Fung, Louis Yuen Siu-Cheung, Maggie Cheung Man-Yuk, martial arts, Michelle Yeoh, Sandy Shaw Lai-King, super heroes, Tony Ching Siu-Tung, Women who kick butt, wuxia, Yen Shi-Kwan
Kick Ass Girls
Written and directed by Vincci Cheuk/GC Goo-Bi
Chrissie Chau and other hot girls wearing gym outfits and beating the crap out of each other sounds like a winning idea that of course the Hong Kong government handed over a wad of cash. But Kick Ass Girls somehow managed to be a disjointed mess that somehow misses the entire idea of “girl power” in a film about female empowerment (through violence!) Still, it’s not nearly as terrible as Angel Warriors, but it won’t be on anyone’s must see list.
Kick Ass Girls has a female writer/director, which is the reason I bothered to watch it. This is the first full length film directed by Vincci Cheuk/GC Goo Bi (she previously directed a segment in 2001’s Heroes in Love), and she also appears in front of the camera as a goth assistant who secretly works for the evil boss that traps our heroines. Her goth character Amy’s silent stares are a sharp contrast to the three main girls and their bubbly personalities, which are full of energy even when they are arguing with each other (and thus doing overly dramatic sighs!)
We know none of the girls are going to die thanks to an interview framing device, which immediately destroys all suspense. They even go so far as to jump back to the framing right as the “to the death” fights begin, just to reassure you that the ladies won’t die. The fights in the middle of the film are a series of bouts where we essentially watch our heroines get pummeled by some tough girls. The fights aren’t even that bad, though if you pay attention you can detect how they edited to compensate for the lack of fighting skills among the stars.
One of the deals with Kick Ass Girls is the ladies using their sexuality to get money from men. The gym is set up to lure in paying customers, who then go for “achievements” like there is a video game, eventually earning the right to have fights with the female trainers, and probably do a lot of groping during said fight. Miu does more than just groping to a few of the clients, but her promiscuity isn’t treated as a bad thing, just a useful part of her personality set. In the most WTF part of Kick Ass Girls, Boo somehow still has her purse after they’ve been kidnapped and beaten in their first fight, and it has three complete S&M outfits inside the ladies can use to seduce their guards to escape (though the guard seems enraged instead of seduced, so who knows what is going on!) I can’t come up with a reason why they have the leather outfits (beyond giving an excuse to film the girls in leather outfits) unless 50 Shades of Grey is also popular in Hong Kong.
Big Bad Sis
aka 沙膽英 aka Sa daam ying
Written by Sze-To On
Directed by Sun Chung
Shaw Brothers gives us a tale of bad girl factory workers! It is an interesting spin on the delinquent schoolgirl approach, having the girls just out of school and holding down jobs, but still being delinquent. Big Bad Sis is an interesting hybrid, because it’s an action film with clear influences from the Japanese Sukeban/Pinky violence flicks, but it’s also a Hong Kong Triad film and manages to throw in some left wing pro-labor and pro-women’s rights issues. With just enough exploitation to satisfy those who need that as well. Big Bad Sis may be a stew made from many random ingredients, but they work together to give an entertaining flick.
Big Bad Sis shows that sometimes you gotta fight. Whether it is for your job or to protect innocent people in the bathroom or because of crazy triad gambling den drama or because your boss is a piece of garbage or all of those reasons combined into a gigantic reason. A bid bad reason, which is why you need your sisters!