Challenge of the Lady Ninja (1982)

Challenge_Of_The_Lady_NinjaDirector: Lee Tso-Nam
Starring: Elsa Yeung, Chen Kuan-Tai, Peng Kong, Kam Yin-Fei

Challenge of the Lady Ninja is a difficult film to describe because it refuses to explain itself. Not that any film should have to spoon feed an audience, but in this instance it almost comes across as if they were making the story up as they were going along. But let’s see if I can put the pieces together. Firstly, it is a contemporary film, meaning it appears to be set in the year that is was made – being 1982. I know this because the villains drive around in modern motor cars. Next point, Japan has invaded China, and now controls Shanghai. However there is an underground resistance of freedom fighters who are rebelling against the Japanese oppressors. So Chinese / Japanese animosity is at an all time high.

As the movie opens in Shanghai, we meet the villain of the piece, Lee Tung. We know he is the villain, because Darth Vader’s theme from Star Wars plays when we see him first. Lee Tung lives in a luxurious villa, with high walls and four specialist bodyguards – skilled at various martial arts.

Lee Tung is a Chinese business man but is reviled because he works hand in hand with the Japanese, He is considered a traitor to his people. His uncle, and prospective father-in-law calls on Lee Tung and begs him to change his ways. Lee Tung refuses. Uncle has no option but to try and kill Lee Tung. But before he can strike, he is cut down by the body guards.

The movie changes location to Japan, and we are introduced to Yu Chow Wei. She is at ninja school, and the time has come for her to prove she is worthy of being a ninja by passing a series of tests. Wearing a fire-engine red ninja costume, during the test she is attacked by the other ninja students as she tries to make it through a forest to a temple where she must retrieve a medallion. It is during this test, we are introduced to Miss Wu’s special ninja power – which I have got to say is kinda goofy! Surrounded by a cadre of ninja men holding swords, with a Linda Carter Wonder Woman twirl, she magically appears as a smokin’ hot bikini babe. The ninja men go all slack jawed and goggle-eyed. They drop their weapons and rush forward to… well, I guess some kind of ninja gang-bang. Thankfully before the movie gets all rapey, it is revealed that the smokin’ hot babe shtick is all an illusion planted in their minds. She is standing to the side, still dressed in her ninja costume. She throws a smoke bomb at the ninjas who are groping thin air. Then she continues her quest.

Her last challenge is against the number one pupil at the ninja school. He is guarding the medallion. If she gets past him, she will become the first lady ninja. She does succeed by outwitting him. However, he thinks she is unworthy of being a ninja for two reasons. Firstly, because she is a woman. And secondly, because – shock horror – she is Chinese!

At graduation, Miss Yu is informed of her father’s death. If you haven’t worked it out, she is the first cousin of Lee Tung (and his fiance). It was her father that was killed in the opening scene. So now equipped with freshly minted ninja skills, she heads back to Shanghai for her father’s funeral, and naturally to avenge him – because she is a ninja!

Upon arrival back home, Miss Yu finds things are worse than she though in Shanghai. She decides to train three other women in the art of ninja-ism so they can take down Lee Tung and his Japanese lackeys. This provides the opportunity for a training montage as the ladies get into shape – and it must be said, it contains a studied amount of leering, upskirt, crotch-shot photography. I always like to use the words upskirt, crotch-shot where possible in my film reviews because it helps the blog attract more traffic. While I am at it, I would just like to add naked, nude and porn. They have little to do with the movie, but once again will increase the amount of hits this post receives. But the film does have boobies though, so there’s that. But where was I? Actually I think I’ve finished. So let’s wrap this up.

So the rebels, with the assistance of four lady ninjas take on Lee Tung and his bodyguards. Ninja mayhem ensues – swordfights, smokebombs and er, mud wrestling! Despite any veneer of being a cheesy sleazy ninja flick, Challenge of the Lady Ninja actually turns out to be a cheesy sleazy spy flick, complete with a twist ending (which I have to admit I did not see coming).

Needless to say, this film is not for everyone. But let’s face it, the name Challenge of the Lady Ninja tells the viewer everything they need to know. Ninjas. Ladies. And it’s relative obscurity means you’re not going to accidentally pick this film up. You’d have to seek this one out, and if you’re the type to seek out a cheap-jack Hong Kong film called Challenge of the Lady Ninja, then you know what your in for before you even start watching it. Therefore my thumbs up or thumbs down opinion is pointless really. But let’s just say the overall goofiness of the film won me over in a guilty pleasure kind of way.

For a more in-depth review with screencaps, head over to TarsTarkas.net

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Challenge of the Lady Ninja (1982)

She Shoots Straight (1990)

Country: Hong Kong
Starring: Joyce Godenzi, Tony Leung, Carmina Lau, Wah Yuen, Anglie Leung, Sandra Ng Kwan Yue Pik-Wan Tang, Sarah Lee, Agnes Aurelio, Sammo Hung
Screenplay: Cory Yuen, Barry Wong
Director: Cory Yuen
Cinematography: Moon-Tong Lau, Chi Ming Leung
Music: Lowell Lo
Producers: Lenard Ho, Sammo Hung
Original Title: Huang jia nu jiang

For fans of Hong Kong action cinema, Sammo Hung needs no introduction. Even the most cursory fan of Hong Kong cinema will have stumbled upon his work or possibly even seen him in the US television series Martial Law. However, maybe not quite so popular, is Sammo’s wife Joyce Godenzi. Joyce was a Miss Hong Kong pageant winner who drifted into acting. At first her roles played to type, as an attractive girl next door. Then Sammo Hung unleashed her as a guerrilla fighter in Eastern Condors, and suddenly she was an action queen. Although she didn’t come from a martial arts background she worked hard on the choreography of the fight scenes she was involved in, and was prepared to do a lot of her own stunts.

She Shoots Straight starts with the marriage of two police officers, Mina (Joyce Godenzi) and Bo Huang (Tony Leung). On what should be a day of celebration, becomes one of intense family squabbling. You see Bo Huang is the only son, in a family of five children. All five are police officers, but Bo, as the man is expected to carry on the family tradition. However, Bo’s sisters are happy to have a new girl in the family. In fact their jealously clouds the whole ceremony. The worst and most outspoken of the sisters is Ling (Carmina Lau). She is downright antagonistic to Mina, and refuses to be in any of the wedding photographs with her. With such a family dynamic, it will come as no surprise that there is a bit of the old Cinderella story going on here. Mina is treated as the ugly duckling and constantly put down by her step-sisters.

After the wedding, the Police Superintendent arrives to give Mina a bouquet, and to assign her to her next case, which starts on the following day. Duty calls – so much for the honeymoon. She has been assigned to protect a visiting princess. The film doesn’t say where the princess is from, but as we all know, princesses are special and need to be protected. Assisting Mina on the mission are three of Huang’s very jealous sisters, including Ling, who are very keen to make sure that no praise should come Mina’s way. The princess is visiting Hong Kong for a fashion show, and as a security precaution, Mina acts as a decoy, dressing as the princess with a veil covering her face. The fashion show has a square catwalk with a square glass pyramid position in the centre. For those unfamiliar with the mathematical equation, allow me to elaborate. Hong Kong action cinema + glass = shattered glass. But first things first, and that entails a snatch attempt being made on the princess. And four heavily armed gangsters arrive to do just that.

Meanwhile, two of Huang’s sisters decide to have a bathroom break, leaving Ling on guard. The gangsters march in and toss about some colourful smoke bombs, which look kind of arty, so the audience believe it is all part of the fashion show. Under the cover of the smoke, the gangsters snatch Mina, thinking she is the princess and march her out. Ling follows and the other two sisters stumble out of the bathroom in time to act. With absolutely no concern for Mina, who is being marched away at gunpoint, the three sisters open fire at the would be kidnappers. The gangsters could just pop one in Mina and be done with it, but obviously the princess must have some value so they don’t kill her. However a large scale shootout follows

The Huang sisters polish off three of the kidnappers. Of course, one of these gangsters is shot and flies back through the glass pyramid – I didn’t see that coming! Mina takes out the fourth, then rushes to the aid of another police unit who are in charge of protecting the real princess. This other unit shuffles the princess out into the multi-storey carpark, where, wouldn’t you know it, even more gangsters are waiting.

The princess is pushed into the back seat of a car, but before she car be whisked to freedom, the gangsters take out most of the police unit, and then in their car race up next to the vehicle the princess is in. They break the window of the vehicle she is in, and then drag her across the jagged glass, out the window, and then in through the open window of their car. Then they speed off, however, the princess is not completely in the car. In fact, the bulk of her torso and legs are still dangling out of the car.

As they try to get away, one of the Huang sisters starts shooting at the car. The thing is, what would happen to the princess if she were to disable the car? Would it careen out of control into one of the concrete pylons? Would the princess be killed or only severely whiplashed?

That is the biggest failing in this film is its lack of logic. Sure it is action packed and the stunts are great, but the shear illogicality of many of the sequences beggars belief. There is no ’cause’ and ‘effect’. If Dirty Harry and his imitators were chewed out by their superiors for endangering the lives of innocent civilians, then by the end of this film, the whole Huang family, which seems to make up the majority of the Hong Kong police force, would be constantly on suspension, or kicked off the force. The disrespect for human life and property is absolutely staggering. But, after all it is only a movie and not real life – so let’s press on, shall we?

Mina is called into action as the kidnappers escape onto the street in a brown car. From her position, high above them in the car park, she unholsters her weapon and opens fire despite the princess being inside (I won’t labor the point again). Mina then jumps onto a cloth banner and slides down the face of the building. Then she leaps onto the roof of a passing car. From there, she darts through a bus, from one window to the other, finally landing on the roof of the kidnappers car. From inside, the gangsters starts shooting at the roof of car, and Mina is forced to roll off, falling on the road, in the path of an oncoming motorcycle. Miraculously, the motorcyclist slides to a halt, and Mina borrows the bike to continue her pursuit.

With Mina hot on their tail, the kidnappers break suddenly, and she rides the bike over the top of the car. Now she is in front, and the kidnappers start up again, chasing her. They fire their guns out the car window, and one shot hits the handle bars. Mina loses control, sliding to a halt in the middle of the road. The bad guys bear down on her. She leaps out of the way at the last second, and the car ploughs into the motorbike. The vehicle then careens out of control, flips over three times, coming to a crashing halt. The bad guys are bloodied, battered and bruised – as you would be if you were a passenger in a car that has rolled three times. Oh, the princess was in that car too!

The film conveniently doesn’t show us the princess. I assume she was okay, because the film cuts to an award presentation, where Mina is being presented with a commendation for outstanding police work. Yeah, right!

Above, my description is a very truncated version of what happens in the first fifteen minutes of the film, and I think I have laboured the point that She Shoots Straight is one action packed stunt fest that sets out to entertain rather than present any logical story. Having said that, in the middle of the film, there a sequence that gives this film an emotional core on which to hang the back end of the film, which once again is packed full of stunts and some impressive fight sequences.

The main plot is about a Vietnamese criminal, who is about to be deported from Hong Kong. However, he escapes from the deportation centre and goes on a crime spree throughout Honkers. It is almost as if he wants to make the city pay for trying to deport him. His first mad scheme is to rob the New World nightclub. But the police get wind of the plan and assign Mina and the whole Huang clan to work on the assignment. The operation goes horribly wrong, causing a rift in the Huang family. It also pisses of the arch villain who now wants revenge.

She Shoots Straight is directed by Cory Yuen, who certainly knows his way around an action sequence. In recent years however, he has also become a specialist gun for hire, as an ‘Action Director’ working on films such as Bulletproof Monk, Transporter 1 and 2, Cradle to the Grave, Kiss of the Dragon and Rogue Assassin (AKA: War). Prior to this however, he directed No Retreat, No Surrender and No Retreat, No Surrender 2 (and was allegedly and uncredited co-director on Game of Death 2). Yuen’s work can’t be faulted here – the the pace is sharp, only slowing in the middle when it needs to, to amp up a bit of human drama, and visually the film looks pretty slick. It only clocks in at 87 minutes, so as you can imagine, not too much time is wasted on needless plodding exposition.

I must admit, I went into this movie with pretty low expectations, expecting it to be a vanity piece for Sammo Hung who produced the film – that is to give his model wife a leading role in an action film. I expected Sammo’s pull in Hong Kong got this film made and Godenzi the leading role. And that may very well be true. But, despite any showbiz nepotism, this isn’t a half bad little action film, with some pretty good fight scenes. Godenzi acquits her self rather well, and although she seems outmatched in the final fight with Agnes Aurelio, her ability to portray conviction and pure single minded determination make the viewer believe that this slight, wafer-thin stick girl, could actually kick some serious ass. She Shoots Straight, aside from a few gaping gaps in logic, pushes all the right buttons as a cop action film. At one point Godenzi even seems to be carrying a .44 Magnum – not just ‘girls with guns’ but ‘girls with really big guns’ – which appeals to my pop-cop viewing sensibility. As a film that slipped under my radar (and may have slipped under yours), I believe it is worth seeking out, watching and enjoying. Just don’t think about it too much…just let the stunts, the fights, and the action wash over you and you will enjoy it.

This review originally appeared on Teleport City, February 2, 2011

She Shoots Straight (1990)

Black Cat (1991)

Country: Hong Kong
Director: Stephen Shin
Starring: Jade Leung, Simon Yam, Thomas Lam, Zdenek Juricek, Yvonne Drinovz, Curtis Fraser, Denise Stauffer, Jordy Shane, Audrey Rene
Writer: Lun Ah, Bo Shun Chan, Lam Tan Ping
Editors: Ting Hung Kuo, Wong Chau On, Wing-ming Wong
Music: Danny Chung
Cinematographer: Kin Keung Lee
Producers: Stephen Shin, Dickson Poon
Original Title: Hei Mao

In the twenty-two years since its release, Luc Besson’s La Femme Nikita has indelibly burnt itself onto the minds of action fans. This is best illustrated by the fact that it spawned an American remake called Point of No Return or Assassin (depending on what country you’re in) starring Bridget Fonda, and two television series, the first with Peta Wilson, which ran for four seasons, and a new series with Maggie Q in the lead.

I am sure most of you are familiar with Besson’s La Femme Nikita. For those who aren’t, a quick overview of the plot goes something like this. Nikita (Anne Parillaud) is a junkie. Desperately in need of a fix, she and some of her drug addled buddies break into a pharmacist in an attempt to score some goodies to ease their pain. The burglary doesn’t go to plan and the police arrive on the scene with guns-a-blazin’. After the shoot-out, Nikita is the only one of her party left alive but seemingly in a catatonic state. A police officer comes to her aid only to have his brains blown out by Nikita, who barely knows what she is doing. She is then sentenced to thirty years in prison for her crime.

At the point of being imprisoned, she is made an offer. She can either be trained as a assassin or the sentence can stand. She chooses to be trained. But that means the she becomes a part of the system that she has been rebelling against as an outcast junkie. But she also believes she is tougher than the ‘system’. She thinks she can complete the training and still be the same anti-social miscreant that she was when she began. But slowly, almost like a military boot camp, her individuality is beaten out of her. They begin to mold her into a cool killing machine.

While I agree that Besson’s Nikita is an action classic, and to some people this may be sacrilege, but in some ways I think that Point of No Return / Assassin has stood the test of time better than La Femme Nikita. Although only made three years previous, the original was definitely a film made at a certain time. Besson made his film, stylistically, cutting edge. But what is cutting edge one year, is passé the next. Point of No Return / Assassin travels a more timeless path and this serves the film well. One of the elements that helps the film is the choice of music. Put simply, I hate Eric Sera (composer for Nikita), but think Nina Simone is pretty fucking cool. In Point of No Return / Assassin the great songs by Simone drive the story along. In fact, the code-name selected for Maggie Blowjob (well that’s what Fonda calls herself in the flick) is ‘Nina’. Songs like ‘Feelin’ Good’ which struts out when Maggie has finally been released into society emphasise the feeling of freedom that Maggie must be experiencing. At the end of the movie, when Maggie has to leave everything behind her ‘Black Is The Colour Of My True Love’s Hair’ emotes a feeling of melancholy and loss that sums up the character perfectly. I know that’s incredibly superficial, and Point of No Return / Assassin would never exist with Nikita, but what can I say, I am a slave to pop culture.

But Point of No Return / Assassin was not the first remake of La Femme Nikita. That honour goes to the Hong Kong action film Black Cat. I wont bullshit you and say Black Cat is Hong Kong action classic — and that’s possibly because it feels more like an American film (but I’ll talk more about that later) — but it certainly serves up enough thrills for those who aren’t interested in character development.

The film opens late one night in an un-named part of the USA, and what us country boys, who grew up on Convoy and Smokey and the Bandit, would call a K-whopper is barreling down a highway. The muscle bound trucker (Zdenek Juricek) decides to stop at a regular haunt on route, the Liberty Truck Stop and get a bite to eat. He swaggers in, wearing a mesh top that makes him look like he just stepped off the set of Miami Vice, and lights himself a big fat stogie while awaiting some service. There is a staff member out front, a young girl called Catherine (Jade Leung) — but I’ll call her Cat for this review — who is cleaning and polishing the cutlery, but she is too lazy to serve the trucker. Out of frustration, the trucker calls to the owner of the establishment, Denny, for a bit of service.

Denny, of course, verbally chastises Cat for being so lazy. She gives him a dirty look, and to prove she’s a bad-ass who doesn’t give a fuck, she shears a tea-towel in half with one of the steak knives she has been cleaning. Later, Cat serves the trucker his meal, and as he has been on the road for ten days and is a little bit pent up, he pats her on the behind. She pulls away, so instead he grabs at one of her breasts. She picks up a fork and jams it into his other hand, pinning it to the table. No means NO mister!

The trucker backhands her, and Denny hearing the commotion rushes out and fires her – throwing her possessions out into the carpark. She goes. But she is angry – incredibly angry. Outside in the carpark, she plays a harmonica and waits for the trucker. Later, after his meal (and having his hand bandaged) the trucker walks out and finds her sitting near his truck. Still horny, he asks her if she’d ‘like to play some more?’ She agrees, for thirty-dollars. He pokes the cash down her cleavage and unzips his pants, preparing to have his gear-stick felated. She drops to her knees, but rather than using her mouth on the aforementioned gear-stick, she reaches around behind and picks up a sizeable rock, which she pounds into his member. He drops to his knees. Then she punches him in the head, and he collapses to the ground. If that wasn’t enough, she starts laying into him with her boots. There is no doubt that Cat has some severe anger management issues.

Having claimed her revenge, Cat walks off. However, the trucker isn’t done yet. He gets up, grabs her from behind and hurls her through the truck stop window. Denny calls the cops, as the trucker follows Cat’s crashing body into the building. After upending a billiard table that Cat is hiding under, the trucker then picks her up and throws her into a jukebox. Then he proceeds to kick the shit out of her. As the trucker is about to send her into the next world, Denny, now armed with a pistol, fires a shot into the air. The kicking stops. Denny warns the trucker off, who backs away and begins to leave, believing that he now has delivered his share of hard vengeance.

But Cat just wont quit. She picks up a shard of broken glass from the shattered window, and charges at the trucker. She stabs the glass shard repeatedly into his torso. But the big guy won’t go down. Denny then, somewhat foolishly, tries to intervene. I say foolishly, because Cat and the trucker went past normal behavior three fight sequences ago. Denny stands between Cat and the trucker, but not for long, as the trucker swats him away with a chair. Denny flies into a pinball machine and is rendered unconscious. However, the pistol he was holding clatters on the floor next to Cat. The trucker advances on Cat and is just about to crown her with the chair, when she picks up the gun and pumps a few rounds into stomach. He collapses dead on top of her. And now completely exhausted, she passes out.

The police arrive at the scene. An officer hauls the dead trucker of Cat and tries to revive her. She regains consciousness with a start, and with the gun still in her hand, shoots the officer, killing him instantly. In custody, the police are not happy about the death of a member of their fraternity, and Cat gets a rough time, especially from the sister of the murdered officer, who expresses her grief with a billy-club. But as you should know by now, dear reader, that Cat is not one to just sit there and take it. She quickly turns the tables, snatches the billy-club and starts beating the crap out of the female officer. A whole squad of cops have to be sent in to restrain her, as she goes about another violent and uncontrollable rampage.

The carnage doesn’t stop, at least for now. At the courthouse, as Cat uses the bathroom, a hitman comes for her. It is never explained who the hitman works for? The cops? Luckily for Cat, even though she is handcuffed to a rail inside the cubicle, using a piece from the plunger in the cistern, she frees herself and knocks out the hitman. She takes his gun, and then running out into the corridor firing, she tries to make a break for freedom.

The opening of Black Cat takes the position that La Femme Nikita was a good film, but was not violent and crazy enough. Nikita in hindsight looks positively somnambulent compared to Cat, who is just relentlessly angry and crazy. Outside the courthouse, she runs through the streets — usual mayhem ensues; bullets flying, people screaming — and into an alley. From a side-street in front of her, a car pulls out, and the driver produces a rifle, takes aim, and fires. Cat is hit. There is no blood, so I guess that it’s a tranquilizer shot.

Next she is operated on, and a microchip, known as the ‘Black Cat’ is planted in her brain. Then she is spirited away by helicopter to a top secret facility run by the CIA. She awakens in a stark white room – it looks more like a cell – and she is in a great deal of pain – a bad headache. A man named Brian (Simon Yam), who is dressed in black enters her room and offers her a pill that will relieve the headache. He then explains that she has been certified dead, and now has the opportunity to work for the government.

Cat hasn’t changed overnight, and is still the same anti-social misfit, so she grabs Brian’s gun, shoots him, and in her underwear, runs out into the complex looking, once more, for a way out. Of course she is trapped. There is no way out. Brian, of course, was wearing a bullet proof vest, and is Cat’s handler during her duration at the training centre, where she is taught to be an effective, and unemotional assassin. After a year of physical and weapons training, Cat is unleashed upon the world. After proving herself, during a contrived test, she is sent to Hong Kong to assassinate underworld figures. As a cover story, she poses as a photo journalist for magazine company, which is a front for the CIA.

While in Hong Kong, she falls for a guy named Alan (Thomas Lam) who works at a bird sanctuary. Being a skilled assassin (without emotions) and being a fun-loving girlfriend is a difficult double act for Cat, and she finds her emerging humanity, a hindrance to her profession. For next assignment, she is sent to Japan. Unwisely, for a woman who lives in a world of ‘kill or be killed’, she chooses to marry Alan and brings him to Japan with her. Of course, he doesn’t know she is a killer. And as the story plays out, the CIA become increasingly disturbed at their relationship. So much so that they implement a plan to end it, by killing Alan.

In some ways it is very right that Hong Kong film-makers should remake La Femme Nikita and possibly claim it as their own. After all, strong female characters have long been the hallmark of HK cinema. The west seems to think they invented something new in Aliens, with Sigourney Weaver as Ripley, a strong, empowered female character. Or even with Thelma and Louise. The press treated Nikita the same way, suggesting that the film was groundbreaking action film, with its depiction of a strong central female character.

And the line still gets peddled today — watch Salt with Angelina Jolie. The features on the blue-ray disk are littered with the same old spiel — groundbreaking woman’s role. Not to deride any of the films above — but that publicity line, and that’s what it is, just some PR — is bullshit! Hong Kong have been doing it for forty-five years (I am sure it’s much longer than that — but my knowledge of HK cinema only reaches back to the mid sixties). So if Hong Kong film-makers riff on a film, that riffs on Hong Kong cinema is that such a bad thing? Actually I’d like to see just a smidge more creativity in the story department, but you get my meaning.

Black Cat is brisk, violent and reasonably entertaining with some good stunts and effects. If it has a flaw, it is that it sets such a brisk, heart pounding pace at the beginning that it is virtually impossible to keep that level of dynamism up, and sure enough, once Cat goes into training the film slows down. It’s not boring, but it is less defined than Besson’s Nikita or Badham’s Assassin / Point of No Return. The dehumanising and rebuilding of Cat at the CIA facility doesn’t ring true, as for the majority of her time there, she still has the same anti-social chip on her shoulder. But yet, when it becomes time for her to go out into the real world and kick ass, she does so willingly. Adding to the confused mess, is that Cat’s first assignment – which is really a test – is structured so that she feels betrayed by her own team. Yet, afterward, despite her initial anger, she chooses to ride with it.

I am guessing that her obedience has something to do with the Black Cat chip in her head, which is supposed to make her a better weapon. However, this is never truly defined in the movie, and all it seems to do is give her headaches, which need special medication. But maybe I want too much from the film. After all, it is primarily a slick action flick, and to emphasize the point of what a crowd-pleaser this film is intended to be, the film borrows rather loosely from the Stallone action film handbook. The brutality that the cops inflict upon when she is first apprehended, could be taken straight from First Blood – yes, they even have the fire hose scene. And as Cat’s physical training regimen, montage an all, with dreadful synth-rock music, could be lifted from Rocky IV.

After a somewhat stodgy middle, once Cat is released into society, Black Cat kicks into gear for the last portion of the film which features plenty of shooting and exploding police cars, which entertaining though, that it is, seems more befitting and American action film. A part of me wonders if this film was partially aimed at a Western audience. A large amount of this film in in English — the opening scenes in the USA, and much of her training at the facility. I guess, if it’s the CIA that’s training her, than that makes her an American agent. However, many of the cast members appear to speak their lines phonetically and as such, much of the dialogue is stilted. But the film is not the type that you watch for the dialogue. It’s about insane action and mayhem perpetrated by a chick who is easy on the eyes (well, at least that’s the male perspective). But back to my point about the American market, maybe as La Femme Nikita was in French, that the makers of Black Cat thought that if they could make virtually the same film, but accessible to American audiences (that is, they don’t have to read subtitles), then possibly they could have a hit. Admittedly that is all conjecture on my behalf, based solely on the fact that this Hong Kong action film is decidedly American in tone.

As discussed, La Femme Nikita would be remade by Hollywood in 1993, and the first television series would appear in 1997. But Black Cat would not be denied her place, and she would also turn up in several sequels. First, in 1997, called Black Cat 2: the Assassination of President Yeltsin, which is a more traditional spy thriller, relying on Bondian tropes to fill the action quota. The opening ski chase sequence could be lifted from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, mixed with A View to a Kill (thankfully without the Beach Boys musical cue). Despite more pyrotechnics (and helicopters), Black Cat 2 is not a patch on its predecessor. Then there’s Black Cat in Jail (2000) and The Black Cat Agent Files (2003). I have not seen the last two – and apparently they are little more than ‘in name only’ sequels. However, they are an interesting footnote from Nikita’s legacy.

This post originally appeared on Teleport City, April 19, 2011.

Black Cat (1991)

The Bod Squad (1974)

Country: Hong Kong / Germany
Director: Ernst Hofbauer, Chih-Hung Kuei
Starring: Hua Yueh, Hui-Ling Liu, Sonja Jeannine, Diane Drube, Gillian Bray, Tamara Elliot, Deborah Ralls, Hsieh Wang
Music: Fu-ling Wang
Original Title: Yang chi
AKA: Enter the Seven Virgins, Virgins of the Seven Seas, Karate, Küsse, blonde Katzen

Do you like Shaw Brothers swordplay movies? Do you like German nudie movies from the early 1970s? Have you ever wondered what type of film you’d get if you crossed those two styles of film? Well wonder no more, because The Bod Squad is just such a picture.

The plot is wafer thin. As the movie starts, seven women – and as it matters to the plot – five of them being virgins (the two oldest girls have already been deflowered) have been captured by pirates. They were traveling on a ship from England to Australia, because Australia has a shortage of attractive women, and the seven beauties on the boat were to address this imbalance. I can assure you, I am not making this up – that was the reason stated for their journey. I can also assure you Australia does not have a shortage of attractive women – but I digress.

The women are brought to a coastal village where the pirates live when they are not pirating, pillaging, and raping. At this point, you’re probably wondering if the pirates are such rapists, why haven’t they raped their prisoners? Believe me, they want to. And a few even attempt it, only to be cut down by their superiors. You see, the head pirate wants to sell the ‘pure’ girls for a healthy profit. But first they must be cleaned up, which means gratuitous scenes of the girls bathing and being washed. Then they are to be trained in the art of making love – the various techniques, and positions required to please a man. And they are taught to dance.

But unbeknown to the pirates, the girls are also taught Kung-Fu, which of course is a pretty handy skill to have when you are being held prisoner by a band of ruffians. Despite the films story-line, this film is pretty much played as a comedy (at least towards the end), where the scantily-clad girls start to kick the bad guys asses.

In some ways, The Bod Squad could be considered a cinematic template or antecedent for last years Suckerpunch, which has a remarkably similar story – although stylistically miles apart. Both are stories of women imprisoned, subjugated, and trained to be sexual playthings for men, but while the women are surviving the abuse, they are secretly plotting to escape. The big difference between the films being, The Bod Squad has no CGI, but more nudity and Kung Fu.Depending on your personal taste, take that as a plus or a minus.

Here’s the German trailer – NSFW.

The Bod Squad (1974)

Warlords (2007)

Country: China / Hong Kong
Director: Peter Chan, Wai Man Yip
Starring: Jet Li, Andy Lau, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Jinglei Xu, Yu Ai Lei
Music: Kwong Wing Chan, Peter Kam, Leon Ko

Sorry guys, but this review is not going to be anywhere near the standard I wanted it to be. I didn’t set out to write a ‘filler’ review. I wanted it to be a well crafted and fleshed out exploration of a fine slice of contemporary international cinema. I know I haven’t written a well crafted and fleshed out exploration before, but I was hoping this would be the first time. The film I chose to look at is Warlords. Now, one of my best friends is a merchant seaman (yeah, we make jokes about it to), and every now and then he arrives in town armed with a few goodies to tease and tantalise. One of these was the Warlords DVD. At the time the film was unavailable in Australia. I was pretty excited to watch this sumptuously filmed, big screen epic (it’s a big-screen epic, even when watched on a small screen!) I slipped the disc into the machine and pressed play. Despite the English packaging, the film started in Chinese, with Chinese subtitles. I stopped the film; went back to the main menu, and selected the English subtitle option. ‘Away we go!’ I thought.

And English subtitle did appear, but not in a format that I could understand. Yes there were English words, but it was sort of jumbled – dialogue ended or started mid sentence, and some of the translation was kind of screwy. Much of the first forty-five minutes of the film was spent fighting off attacks from The Comfortable City (kind of reminds me of the old Monty Python Spanish Inquisition sketch!). During epic battle scenes, characters started yelling ‘put’, which I presumed meant ‘fire’. My suspicions were confirmed later when a character ordered a battalion of archers to ‘put arrows’ (fire arrows). During the middle of a fight scene, there is some dialogue about a seven inch snake – I am not sure if they were talking about the guys dick, or referring to the villain of the piece as a serpent? For All I knew, they could have been talking about the daggers used in the fight. All I can say is here was a potentially great dramatic scene, but I was falling around in fits of laughter because of the ridiculous subs. Towards the end of the film, during great chunks of dialogue, there were no subs at all. It is as if the subtitleer got bored and wandered off to get a coffee.

Now I could joke about the subtitles all day, but the truth is Warlords looks to be an absolutely amazing film. It has been beautifully shot, and the battle scenes are staggering – possibly the best I have seen since Akira Kurosawa’s Ran. The music is sweeping and majestic as befitting a sprawling epic. The film appears to have all the trappings of a superior piece of entertainment – but I can’t really be sure – the story (credited to eight writers) may be absolute piffle.

Jet Li plays a character called General Ma Xinyi, although he doesn’t start out as a general, and the subtitles refer to him as Green Cloud, and at the beginning of the film he is involved in a huge battle. But during the fighting, he plays dead, while hundreds (possibly thousands) of his comrades are slain. Gripped with guilt, Green Cloud vows to never let this happen again. Gradually he rebuilds his life and regains his honour as he joins a band of soldiers at war with The Comfortable City. Through his deeds in battle he gradually rises through the ranks until he is promoted to be a joint leader of this group of soldiers. His co-leader is a gentleman named Noon Sun (I am not making this up, I assure you!) Green Cloud and Noon Sun make a formidable team, and become blood brothers. Soon their rag-tag band of soldiers are taking on all comers  and rampaging across China. After a few successful battles, Green Cloud grows a conscience and wishes to change the rules of war – no more raping or pillaging. This brings him into conflict with Noon Sun who wishes to continue raping and pillaging.

At the risk of appearing lazy, but in the interests of conveying a slightly more accurate description of the events in the film, here is the blurb off the back of the DVD.

‘It is a heroic tale of three blood brothers and their struggle in the midst of war and political upheaval. It is based on “The Assassination of Ma”, a Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) story about the killing of general Ma Xinyi. The story was filmed by Zhang Che in 1973 as The Blood Brothers.’

So the film is a remake, and appears to be quite different from my brief synopsis – I seem to be shy one blood brother. Once again, in my defence, I’ll blame the subs. Half of the characters in the film are referred to as ‘Elder Brother’ or ‘Adult’. It is impossible to tell who is talking to who.

In closing, I’d have to say, I must watch this film again, but obviously a proper version – not some dodgy pirate copy shipped out of a steamy port in Indonesia. The film appears to be a worthwhile viewing experience, especially if you like epic adventure on a grand scale.

Warlords (2007)

Who Am I (1998)

Original Title: Wo shi shei
Country: Hong Kong
Director: Benny Chan / Jackie Chan
Starring: Jackie Chan, Michelle Ferre, Mirai Yamamoto, Ron Smerczak, Ed Nelson, Kane Kosugi
Music: Nathan Wang

I like Jackie Chan’s films. Sure there’s some stinkers in there, but generally over his career he has consistently entertained cinema audiences. Who Am I is not one of his great successes, but it isn’t a turkey either. It has some great sequences and the martial-arts showdown with two evil henchmen has been choreographed to within an inch of its life.

The story starts in a mine in South Africa, and two guys in diver’s suits crawl out of a pit of primordial ooze. As they are hosed off, one of them holds out a piece of a meteorite that he has extracted from the grimy depths. A small sample is taken from the meterorite and dropped into a metal canister. It is then spirited away in a jeep for analysis. In transit, the meteorite fragment becomes unstable and explodes, destroying the jeep.

So, like any good spy film, we now have a McGuffin – a fragment of meteorite – which is a source of extreme power. Naturally it is now wanted by many different parties. One of these parties happens to be the CIA, and they send a team into South Africa to find and retrieve the meteorite. Amongst the CIA extraction team, is one Special Agent Jackie Chan – in the English dub, Jackie uses his own name.

A flotilla of helicopters airlift Chan and his team into the jungle, where they set up a base, high in the canopies of the trees. When the un-named bad-guys begin to transport the remaining portions of the meteorite in a convoy of trucks, Chan and his team strike with a clean surgical precision. The mission is a success and CIA extraction team are congratulated and sent on leave. As they are transported by helicopter, the two pilots abandon the controls. They inform the crew that they have orders to ditch them – leave them to die in the crash. The first pilot parachutes out. Then as the second pilot jumps out, Jackie Chan rushes after him and grabs him by the legs. Chan, himself, is now dangling from the helicopter – two of the other extraction team members are holding his legs. Swaying back and forward, Chan tries to wrestle the parachute away from the pilot, but with no luck. The pilot slips free. As the helicopter spirals out of control towards the ground, Chan is shaken free, and falls into the dense forrest. He bounces from branch to branch, banging his head (and whole body), tumbling until he reaches the ground unconcious.

Chan wakes up in a native village. he has been patched up and will be okay. But he cannot remember how he got there . When the village chief asks Chan his name, he cannot recall and answers with the simple question ‘Who Am I?’ That natives, who do not speak English, assume that ‘Who Am I’ is his name and start to refer to him as such.

In time, after being assimulated by the tribe, Jackie is rescued by a cross country rally-driver who takes him back to civilisation (in fact it is Chan who does the rescuing – but that’s just semantics). Back in civilisation, Chan or ‘Who Am I’ as he is known, is back on the radar of the intelligence agencies, and naturally the bad guys assume he knows about their double cross and their theft of the meteorite. Of course, Chan doesn’t remember any of this, and simply wants to find out who he is, but the bad guys stir up a hornet’s nest when they push (and try to eliminate) Jackie.

Ther’s one silly sequence that I absolutely loved. The story moves to Rotterdam, and poor old Jackie is being chased through the streets by an army of henchmen who are determined to capture him. As the pursuit and running battle continues, Jackie finds himself without his shoes. In response he dons a pair of clogs from a souvenir vendor’s stall and continues his his fight with his pursuers. Now, I must admit I have never been kicked in the face by a martial artist. But if I was to be kicked, I would presume that the person attacking my personage would either be wearing some of kind of sporting shoe like a runner, or possibly (if they were a classy assailent) some leather dress shoes. In my lifetime I have never contemplated being kicked in the head with the pointy end of a wooden clog. I am sure such an attack would be devastating. But in the hands of Jackie Chan it is hilarious.

Obviously, a story that features a character with amnesia is going to be compared to The Bourne Identity – and fair enough too. But before I look at Who Am I in comparison with The Bourne Identity, I’d like to point out that this film was made four years before Matt Damon made Jason Bourne a household name. Of course though, before that there was the Richard Chamberlain mini-series and  Robert Ludlum’s book were all best sellers – so the plot point of an amnesiac was hardly dormant. In fact, the idea of an amnesiac spy tracing his past may be quite an old one in the history of modern thriller writing. Recently on The Debrief blogsite, Jeremy Duns posted a fascinating article entitled Bourne Yesterday, which tracks back from The Bourne Identity, the literary antecedants of the amnesiac spy (particularly ones who are dragged from the ocean). In his article, Jeremy names checks Ian Fleming (for the end of You Only Live Twice and the beginning of The Man With The Golden Gun), Dennis Wheatley (for Faked Passports) and Manning Coles (for Pray Silence).

But both Who Am I and The Bourne Identity (the film that is – because in book Bourne’s purpose and identity are quite different) feature agents who have lost their memory, and while in the process of discovering who they are, also uncover some shady characters who are out to protect themselves. Also in both instances, if both Bourne and Chan were left alone by the villains of the piece, then most likely their schemes and corrupt little empires would have survived. By intervening, and trying to eliminate Bourne and Chan, they have inadvertently left a trail, leading our amnesiac heroes directly to their doorstep.

There are some quite noticeable differences between the two characters as well. Bourne essentially gets amnesia when a mission goes bad, or it could be argued that he actually fails in his mission. He is shot and falls into the sea. Then on the other hand, Chan is a good soldier/agent. It is his corrupt CIA boss’ duplicity and resulting betrayal that leads to Chan falling from a helicopter and and losing his memory. So Bourne gets amnesia as a result of his own actions. Chan’s amnesia is the result of a malicious double-cross.

Despite the fact that I have compared this film to The Bourne Identity, it isn’t really much of a spy film. Anyone who has seen The Tuxedo or The Accidental Spy will realise that the espionage plotting is simply a framework for Chan to drape his unique kind of mayhem over. I guess that is one of the beauties of the amnesiac plot is that it converts Chan into an ‘everyman’ or an ‘innocent bystander’. He doesn’t necessarily have to be a spy to get caught up in the situation he finds himself involved, but he is, and therefore has the skills to extricate himself from his predicament.

Jackie Chan’s films usually deliver a fair quotient of crazy stunts and highly choreographed martial arts, and that is very much true for Who Am I, but it does take a while for the action to kick in. I guess this has to do with the amnesiac character that Chan plays. As the story plays out, initially, after the amnesia, Chan is unsure of what he is capable of. Only as the story progresses, and the stakes get higher, and the ‘threats’ to Chan’s well-being before more and more painfully obvious, does he instinctively use the skills that he possesses.

Because of the slow start, and some heavy handed plot contrivances Who Am I could be considered one of Jackie’s lesser films, but that in no way detracts from the enjoyment this film provides. Jackie Chan is a very likeable actor and as a film-maker is extremely professional. He is not going to allow the film to fail in delivering what his audiences demand.

Who Am I (1998)

The Accidental Spy (2001-2002)

American version – Dimension Films
Director: Teddy Chen
Starring: Jackie Chan, Eric Tsang, Vivian Hsu, Kim Min Jeong, Wu Hsing Kuo
Music: Peter Kam (Hong Kong), Michael Wandmacher (U.S. re-edit)

The Accidental Spy is a hybrid spy / martial arts film in the usual Jackie Chan style. This film divides many people due to the fact that there appears to be quite a few versions floating around. There is the original Hong Kong version. A Hong Kong version that has been dubbed into English. And finally a version by Dimension Films, which is an American re-dub that has also been re-edited. It seems that the story changes quite substantially in the differing versions too. This review relates to the Dimension Films version.

The film opens on an ancient rural landscape in Turkey. A convoy of 4WD vehicles wind their way through the village to a hi-tech farming centre, where bio chemists are trying to create new ways of farming the land. In the convoy is an English news crew who are doing a story on the farm. But it seems that someone isn’t happy with the project. As the interview unfolds, a squad of terrorists, armed with machine guns interrupt proceedings and mow everybody down: farmers, chemists and newscrew.

Next we have the title sequence which shows us snippets from the film that is to come, and features a techo theme by Michael Wandmacher which pounds over the top. Wandmacher’s theme has just enough Bond-style brass cues to re-enforce that you are watching a spy film, but not enough to warrant a lawsuit.

After the cow-catcher and titles we land in Hong Kong and Jackie Chan (that’s his character name, played by er.., Jackie Chan) is preparing for another day at work. He works as a sales assistant at a Weider Fitness store, selling workout equipment. After he bungles a sale, Jackie takes a break at the local shopping mall. His timing is impeccable because a bank robbery is taking place. As the bandits flee, they take hostages, but Jackie intervenes by clobbering the assailants with a pram (don’t worry – the tot wasn’t occupying the pram at the time). The crooks drop their bundle of loot and Jackie quickly scoops it up and then scarpers. Naturally the bandits want the money back, so they pursue Jackie through the complex, conducting a running battle as they go. As with most Jackie Chan movies the choreography is excellent (arranged and performed by Tung Wai and the JC Stuntmen Team). The mayhem moves to the roof, high above the city and Jackie makes his escape by leaping onto a large industrial crane.

At the end of the day, Jackie is a hero and order is restored…so how does Jackie become The Accidental Spy? The press make a feature story out of Jackie’s daring heroics and he comes to the attention of a second rate gumshoe, Manny Liu (Eric Tsang). Liu is working for an elderly Korean, living in Seoul, who is trying to find his son. You see, in the television interview, Jackie’s whole life story came out. He grew up in an orphanage, after he was abandoned at the age of four months old, in 1958. All he can remember is a dangling necklace with a Catholic cross. Liu thinks Jackie fits the bill perfectly.

So Jackie is sent off to Seoul to meet the man who may (or may not) be his father. Park Won-Jung (the father) is on his deathbed at a Defence Department Hospital. As Jackie enters the room he notices the catholic cross around the old man’s neck. It appears that Park Won-Jung is Jackie’s father. And not only that, but in the espionage world he was also the most notorious double agent Korea has ever known.

Later after Jackie has left the hospital some opposition agents assault Park Won-Jung in his room. He dies, but leaves behind a carved wooden box with a Holy medal on the front – and inside is the cross necklace and a key. What does the key unlock? Nobody knows. But through the key, and a little game that his father cooked up before his death, Jackie is about to enter the world of espionage. A world that leads him to the rooftops, bath-houses and markets of Istanbul.

The McGuffin in this film is a super drug called Opium Maxa, which you may have guessed, was being manufactured by the bio-chemists who were slaughtered at the beginning of the film. Unbeknownst to Jackie, his inheritance is to track down this drug and not get killed in the process. Along the way there are Turkish thugs, Korean Agents, the C.I.A. and a nosey journalist, all of whom have an interest in getting their hands on the drug. For those interested, in the original Hong Kong version, the McGuffin was an ultra-lethal, weaponized pathogen called Anthrax II. But The Accidental Spy’s American release co-incided with the big Anthrax scare, after September 11. So it had to be changed.

The Accidental Spy was made when Jackie Chan was at the peak of his Western popularity, with hit films like Shanghai Noon and Rush Hour 1 & 2. But Jackie still received a lot of criticism that his films didn’t have the same charm and style that his earlier Hong Kong work did. The Accidental Spy seems like an attempt to address that. Even though this re-edited version is produced by Harvey and Max Weinstein (Miramax), this is still very much a Hong Kong film. Despite going back to his roots, this film isn’t one of Chan’s success’s. Sure it’s entertaining in it’s way, and as I mentioned earlier the stunts and fight scenes are choreographed very well, albeit with Jackie’s habit of verging into silly slapstick (the kids love it). The real problems is the script which appears to be written around the stunts rather than fitting the stunts to the story. The ending, which takes place on a tanker truck, while be a fairly entertaining set piece is really quite unrealistic…As my ten year old son said when he saw it ‘why didn’t they hit the breaks and get out of the truck?’ Well yeah –that would have worked too, but wouldn’t be as exciting.

Having said all that, as I have mentioned there are numerous versions of the film. Maybe in other versions the plot is fleshed out more and the ending is more believable – but I can’t see my self scouring the world for the alternative versions to check. In the end, this version of The Accidental Spy is a pleasant enough time killer if you are a fan of Jackie Chan, but as a spy film it is a trifle clumsy.

This review is based on the Miramax Dimension Home Entertainment / Buena Vista Entertainment (Australasia) DVD

Visit the official website

The Accidental Spy (2001-2002)