Angels (Review)


aka Tian shi xing dong aka Fighting Madam aka Iron Angels aka Midnight Angels

Directed by Raymond Leung Pun-Hei, Tony Leung Siu-Hung, and Ivan Lai Gai-Ming
Written by Teresa Woo

Angels has quite a laundry list of names. It is known in the UK as Iron Angels (as are the sequels), and the UK suffers from having a cut version of the film. Other names it has been released as include Fighting Madam, Midnight Angels, and the singular Angel.

Angels stands out from many of it’s imitators in several ways. One of the most noticeable is the fun montages set to music, complete with a bunch of quick cuts, that instantly introduce us to characters and tones. Moon Lee’s first appearance in the office is spectacular, showing her attempts to have fun and fit in with the office and work, but she still has to deal with an awful boss and is so eager to run off to shoot people she can’t wait. But those sequences aren’t as common as they should be, and with three directors running around, the film can’t become as good as it should be. That doesn’t mean it is bad or boring, just that there are brief moments of brilliance that are stifled by above averageness. If I could harness the power of wasted potential in the movies I watch, the world would never want for energy.

We know Yukari Oshima’s Madam Sue is evil because she’ll kill her coworkers to prove her point, and even kills her boss after he keeps her from getting her vision of revenge against the police force. Madam Sue laughs hysterically as cops are tortured in front of her, stopping only to lick off some blood that splatters on her. She’s having fun being the top dog of the underworld, switching cars, mocking the police who are chasing after her, even being sexually aggressive towards the DEA Agent Bill. Yukari is rarely presented as sexual in her films, and here she’s in a bathing suit, is sexually aggressive, and even has some body double nudity. Oshima embraces this role fully, and it’s among her best roles. It is a rare villain indeed that can keep up with just how evil and amoral she is.

So this version of Angels is a composite widescreen made from two different versions of the films, one edited for violence and one edited for nudity. So our copy is edited for nothing! The only drawback is it is still dubbed into English. But when a composite copy of Angels mysteriously ends up in your hands due to magic grouch fairies, you don’t look them in the mouth.

Kenji (Saijo Hideki) – Angel #1. Kenji lives in Japan and teaches martial arts when he isn’t working for the Iron Angels. Alex is his name in subtitle land.
Mona (Moon Lee Choi-Fung) – Angel #2. Mona is a bored office worker who would rather be taking down bad guys. Luckily, she works for the Iron Angels so she gets her wish! Moon is her name in subtitle land. Moon Lee can also be seen in Fatal Termination and Tomb Raiders/Avenging Quartet
Helen (Elaine Lui Siu-Ling) – Angel #3. Helen is very man hungry and must flirt with anything with a Y-chromosome near her. She works best being the center of attention and distracting the enemy, but isn’t afraid to go in with guns blazing. Helen’s dubby is a voice you probably will recognize in many Kung Fu films and from Pod People Elaine is her name in subtitle land. Elaine Lui also shows up in Red Wolf as a terrorist, but she was not very comfortable with all the action roles she kept getting as a result of this film.
John King (David Chiang Da-Wei) – Head of the Iron Angels, so I guess he’s like Charlie. Not afraid to join in on some of the smaller action like meeting with gang leaders, but usually is back at the base controlling things. Additional Iron Angels team members include driver Ha-Cheng and secretary Kitty. John Keung is his name in subtitle land.
Bill Fong DEA (Alex Fong Chung-Sun) – DEA agent who hires the Iron Angels to help the Hong Kong police and also help keep down the drug trade. Has an adversarial relationship with Helen despite both of them secretly having feelings for each other. Likes to hide weapons and gadgets in his shoes.
Madam Sue (Yukari Oshima) – Evil evil evil evil evil. Yukari Oshima gives the performance of her career in an awesome, over the top and then some evil gang leader who laughs her way through revenge, torture, murder, and theft of anyone and anything that gets in her way. Eventually her gang is brought down by the Iron Angels, because, why not? Madame Yeung is her name in subtitle land. Yukari Oshima is also on TarsTarkas.NET in Tomb Raiders/Avenging Quartet, Angel’s Mission, Deadly Target, Godfather’s Daughter, and Midnight Angel.

Opens with a raid on a poppy field by basically an entire army division. None of the main characters are involved, but it is a blood-soaked orgy of violence nevertheless! Drug syndicates are crushed. The criminals vow revenge, and are soon killing cops via motorcyclists with swords. At 13 dead cops, some of the criminals want to stop, but top lieutenant Madam Sue wants to keep killing cops, and even chops up another of the bad guys to prove her point. Then Madam Sue convinces the Chairman to let her kill lots more cops.

Police Commissioner George (Wang Hsieh who has played in many movies) teams up with Bill Fong of the DEA arrives, who has money and can hire the Iron Angels for Hong Kong to hunt down the bad guys.

Time to call in the Iron Angels! Mona is working in an office, Angel 1 is teaching martial arts at a temple, and Helen is met at the airport by the other two when everyone is together, her having a man it tow who she quickly drops after she has him carry her luggage.

Helen can sing , they all hang at a nightclub as DEA agent Bill Fong arrives to meet them, and while there some shady dudes are meeting, we know they are shady because the heroes look at them like they are shady. Discretion is a virtue no Iron Angel can possess. Even Helen has difficulty reigning in her desire to have every man worship her when she’s ordered to not flirt with Bill Fong.

A caught computer criminal gives up the info about the DaiNippo company being a front for the evil Madam Sue and Chan Lo.

Chan Lo is beating guys while Madam Sue watches, hysterical with laughter. She also smears up some blood with her finger and licks it, then laughs some more. She stops laughing when a goon tells her someone broke into the executive offices, and beats him up, then tells him he needs to find out who did it.

Mona and Kenji grab some of the drugs Madam Sue has been importing, even driving their car into the ocean to escape (luckily had scuba tanks.) Madam Sue inherits the leadership position of the bad guys after killing the Chairman, and she now hates the Angels like Cobra Commander hates the Joes.

So she just calls them and asks to meet with John King alone!

Of course, he has the Angels hidden around where he meets her, both chatting via phone despite being less than 100 feet away from each other. The meeting ends in nothing but tempers flaring, and the Angels track Madam Sue as she leaves. Despite her efforts to shake them, including a dummy and car switcheroo, they track her to the gang’s hideout.

During their break-in of the gang’s hideout, Mona and Kenji sneak inside while Helen just blunders into the front gate asking for directions to distract the guards. The dubbers decided to give her a southern accent at this point to play up the camp of this scene, which adds a new level of WTF to the film. Despite rescuing some of the captive policemen, Helen and DEA Bill (who was hiding in Helen’s trunk) are captured when Madam Sue returns home prematurely. She forces Bill to fight her, and seems to be enjoying it a little too much. Helen rips off her clothes, having a cool fighting uniform underneath her fashionable attire. You see, Helen never looks bad. Madam Sue fights both of them, though Helen manages to escape when a guard’s gun misfires. Mona and Kenji later yell at Helen for leaving Bill behind, but as Bill had a tracking device on him it was his idea.

To rescue Bill means to go back to the compound guns a’ blazin’. People die left, right, center, behind, north, south, east, west, up, down, left, right, left, right, b, a, b, a, start. Kenji hangs from a helicopter rope machine gunning guys down as well. This is some pretty ridiculous action. They must kill at least 100 guys. We even have parts slowed down (the audio gets some sort of echo effect which is odd by its own right.)

Bill is rescued, though only Mona and Bill make it back up onto the chopper. Helen and Kenji have to jump from the roof and run for it as dozens more goons open fire.

The Angels put pressure on Chan Lo, who reveals he’s only going along with Madam Sue so he doesn’t get on her bad side and wind up dead. He tells Kenji that Madam Sue is planning something big, but he doesn’t know what it is, and it involves four numbers, though he doesn’t know what they are or what they mean. You know, very specific information.

Bill goes to find out what the numbers are (and to prove he isn’t a traitor because he wasn’t tortured at all) so he goes to see Madam Sue and pulls a gun out of his shoe. Madam Sue distracts him with a body double flash of breast and captures him. Bill gets tortured this time, but she tells him the numbers to taunt him, 1-9-8-7, and he transmits them with a secret transmitter also in his shoe. How many secret devices are in Bill’s shoes? They’re like Jerry Steiner’s trench coat on Parker Lewis Can’t Lose. Or Harpo Marx’s coat since that is where Parker Lewis “borrowed” that. Bill also manages to send a message that he isn’t “an incompetent idiot” right before he dies. It’s the ultimate burn on Helen!!!

The Angels figure out 1-9-8-7 is 1987 is year of the rabbit, not by the waitresses dresses as Playboy bunnies where they are hanging out, but because one of them has a rabbit necklace! Nevermind that 1-9-8-7 being 1987 is so obvious I figured it out even seeing this 24 years after 1987, I can imagine how forehead-smacking the audience must have been watching it in theaters in 1987! Also there is a big gold shipment soon! That must be the plot, let’s not consider anything else, ever! Good thing they’re right.

The baddies rob the gold shipment in an armored truck using a truck, a flaming car, an inside man, and a line of like ten guys with masks and machine guns that just riddle bullets into a car with four cops in it. The armored truck is driven to a construction site, but then is knocked into a hole and buried in cement! The driver (and inside man) freaks and suffocates. Kenji is trapped in the back of the truck, but he uses meditation to slow down his breathing.

Madam Sue smelting is fake gold bunnies to distract the cops while they steal the real gold. I guess this is real FOOL’S GOLD! Ha!

Sorry about that joke, it won’t happen again…

Chan Lo is the guy leading the group that cuts open the truck and thus frees Kenji. That means he and Chan Lo can talk more. And fight more. Chan Lo prevents Kenji from being killed by the other men by fighting him, and when cops rush in to arrest everyone, Kenji helps out Chan Lo by telling the cops he saved him.

Helen and Mona went to the DaiNippo company and are now fighting their way inside. The two end up fighting a bunch of workers. Helen has a spiky necklace and exploding earrings, and also put exploding buttons on Mona’s shirt. Good thing Mona doesn’t get shot in the chest, we’d be out the two sequels! Moon Lee is excellent with a pole fighting off lots of dudes, making up for Elaine Lui’s slightly obvious uncomfortableness with the action sequences.

Madam Sue arrives to fight the two female Angels. All I can say for this fight is…ouch! It is brutal as hell. Fights like this are why Hong Kong films got such a great cult following in the west, there is no way you’d see things this brutal in a normal Hollywood film. Even a lot of the direct to VHS action flicks wouldn’t approach this level of brutal fighting, and even if they did, they wouldn’t be choreographed anywhere near as good.

All good things must come to an end, and Madam Sue is evil so she must be defeated! After Madam Sue is beat, she gets up for the “villain suddenly comes back alive” thing so Kenji can shoot her in the head, killing her for good.

At the hospital, Helen is drugging her doctors so she can get real food. Ha ha ha, that’s our Helen, possibly injuring or killing doctors and nurses so she can eat some better noodles! We get a happy ending when we’re told that Bill isn’t dead and paid the group their fee! We don’t actually see Bill, we end on a freeze-frame of Helen injuring herself trying to rush to see Bill.

So. Angels. A classic film. A historic Hong Kong film because of the countless imitators that used its name somewhere in their titles. A benchmark that many of the imitators failed to match up to. And well worth your time. The 80’s fashions, the big hair, the music, all are things you get used to in a heartbeat because of the unbridled enthusiasm of Angels to be an awesome film. Action sequences all over the place, neat director tricks, just a general sense of fun. There is a reason so many films tried to copy this one. Yes, there are some small problems, but nothing that should keep you from enjoying yourself. Recommended.

Rated 8/10 (Secretary, cop info, hostile takeover, tasty, Nike Air Transmitter, rabbit clue, ski mask power, it’s rabbit time!)

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