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The Armed Policewoman (1995) Directed by: Cheung Gon-Man

One of those times where Hong Kong cinema's unique mix doesn't charm but registers on the silly and dumb-scale instead. Carrie Ng is a timid policewoman about to go into training in order to patrol with a gun. Her and younger partner played by Valerie Chow bust a huge arms smuggling ring led by Ng Man-Tat (and his huge steel mallet) and with this loss, the gangster boss goes after the family of Carrie's...

Making its points about the role of a woman in this particular household via comedy-dialogue spoken in choir and doing a little wacky Police Academy style (or The Inspectors Wears Skirts) montage, The Armed Policewoman bores when employing this structure as we pretty much know no effort will be made to beef up this scenario. When later making quite a terrible, morbid joke about the horrific death of a lost one, intentions to stay light in almost all areas (including violence) are horrifically off. Admittedly tweaking Carrie Ng's glamorous image to that of a housewoman that then goes undercover as a sexy lawyer generates the sole chuckle of the film but that and some small excursions into worthwhile action (where Valerie Chow and doubles do admirably well) doesn't save anything. Plus, a seriously deranged sub plot about Roy Cheung needing to smell a 20 year old, never washed rag in order to function is just gross. Also with Lau Siu-Ming.

Armour Of God (1987) Directed by: Jackie Chan

Jackie Chan's Indiana Jones-style adventure is more renowned for nearly killing the star (after a seemingly harmless stunt jumping from a castle to a tree where a branch broke and he hit his head on a rock on impact. Chan had emergency surgery and now has a permanent hole in his head. Production resumed a few months later) than for its qualities as a movie. Fairly swift and admirable because of Chan's continually evolving vision to his art (focus on a larger scale adventure, stunts and fight action), after an action-filled opening the movie features very sparse action. Middle part is a standard and at times even sub-standard double act between Chan and a very weak Alan Tam trying to save Rosamund Kwan from a religious cult. Chemistry between the stars is lacking, the political correctness dropped in favour of cheap comedy (including against homosexuals and women) but thankfully an overall grade of recommended gets reached via the extended action ending. As Chan takes on the monks in the religious cult headquarters, the mix of dangerous choreography involving fire, painful flips, falls and martial arts shows Chan finally feeling comfortable making this particular production. Using Westerners such as Ken Boyle, John Ladalski and Wayne Archer very well, highlight is the fight versus a number of muscular, black women (and their stunt doubles) beating the crap out of the up to now invincible Chan as Asian Hawk. It's all warm up for the more well conceived and executed sequel.

Armour Of God II - Operation Condor (1991) Directed by: Jackie Chan

Bigger, better, extremely expensive and one of Jackie Chan's best and last movies where the focus on daredevil stunts and martial arts mixes superbly well. Although featuring a trio of women (Carol Chen, Eva Cobo De Garcia and Ikeda Shoko) essentially there as windowdressing and constantly in need to be saved (and the comedic Arab characters played by Jonathan Isgar and Dan Mintz are pretty offensive too), Chan's shortcomings in the political correctness-area is made up tenfold due to a terrific adventure production. Shot on international locations yet again (including Spain and Morocco), Chan wisely spreads out tiny to bigger stunt- and action concepts that in turn generates a fine pace. From small skirmishes in apartments and hotelrooms where Chan's creativity shines and a dangerous looking bike and car chase, rightly the long finale in the German underground base is quoted as a highlight. Perhaps THE reason the film went over budget to the degree it did, nevertheless there's jaw dropping highlights here including the famous wind tunnel finale. After this Golden Harvest asked Chan to work with smaller budgets and other directors and as the decade (and career) went on, it became clear this was the last of the greatest, high concept movies Chan directed. Excellent usage of the Western cast is another highlight, including extensive action involving Bruce Fontaine and Kenneth Goodman.

Asian Connection (1995) Directed by: David Lam & Yuen Tak

Irrational Hong Kong cops (Danny Lee and Michael Chow) mess up and as punishment are sent to Taiwan to retrieve information. They of course get into the thick of things, trying to nail gangster Chan Gin Shui (Blacky Ko) while they also manage to annoy the hell out of their Taiwan superiors (main one played by Chan Chung-Yung from Her Fatal Ways III). However in David Lam and Yuen Tak's corporation, Asian Connection takes a step back to have cop characters in need for so called irrational behaviour and those following the book, meet to develop a constructive way of working. Undoubtedly this tangent of the film works and is a credit to Danny Lee's track record of featuring sincere, sometimes cheesy ultimate messages.

David Lam and Yuen Tak's direction is quite sharp, getting a fairly fun dual act out of Danny Lee and Michael Chow (the latter is particularly great when being forced to go undercover) while also in a heartbeat giving us shocking and finely paced action. Character driven and competent effort shot in synch sound Cantonese and Mandarin. Also with Jean Wang, Jack Kao, Ricky Yi and Nick Cheung.

Asia-Pol (1967) Directed by: Matsuo Akinori

Shaw's on a tear producing spy movies during a hot era for James Bond and teaming up Japan's Nikkatsu results in a slick looking co-production but it's so down to earth and stripped of genre outrageousness it becomes rather boring. Jimmy Wang Yu travels Japan, Macau and Hong Kong hunting gold smugglers, getting out of sticky situations involving car bombs, is after personal revenge, meets a long lost sister... it's all set to a decidedly familiar theme inspired by said hot movie series but Asia-Pol rarely shows the spark it needs to to maintain interest. Very evident in the casting of Jimmy Wang Yu who looks a tad too young for the role, Japan's Shishido Jo projects an aura of quiet menace and director Matsuo Akinori (one of a handful Japanese directors that became a part of Shaw Brothers) maintains somewhat interest with the location work (working with cinematographer Iwasa Itsusen). A version for Japan was shot simultaneously, starring Hideaki Nitani.

The Assassin (1967) Directed by: Chang Cheh

Released just after the influential and immortal classic One-Armed Swordsman, Chang Cheh turned to same personnel again (Jimmy Wang Yu, Chiao, Chiao and Tien Feng mainly) and more than adequately lived up the reputation set by the prior effort. The Assassin therefore operates for the majority of the time in dialogue and melodrama with only select few action set pieces, all of the high quality Chang Cheh infused into his works during this period.

Jimmy Wang Yu plays historical figure Nie Zheng, a swordsman with dreams of bringing the finer aspects of life into his and Xia Ying's (Chiao Chiao) relationship. When his master is assassinated by a disgruntled student, he loses all faith and takes on a lowly life as a butcher to support his family. The opportunity to achieve something great arises when he's approached by Yen (Tien Feng) to carry out an assassination mission of a rival official...

Featuring several strongly layered themes, The Assassin is not for the impatient as long stretches are about meticulous dialogue exchanges. Chang Cheh's script isn't exactly subtle as character speak out all the themes and messages of the story but it goes deeper places despite. Self sacrifice for the greater good, bonding between brothers are once again staples in Chang's work here but it doesn't feel repetitive and The Assassin is largely a very affecting story, both concerning patriotism and love. Further enhancement comes via the Shaw Brother's stages, especially the outdoor set where Wang Yu and Chiao Chiao share their most intimate scenes.

Action directors Lau Kar Leung and Tong Gaai has less to do but offers up some excellent, fast moving swordplay and a requisite gory climax that should come with a Chang Cheh movie of this type. Huang Tsung-Shun, Li Hsiang-Chun and Cheng Lei co-stars.

Buy the DVD at:
Yesasia.com

The Assassin (1993) Directed by: Billy Chung

Billy Chung's new wave swordplay effort can be easily summarized as very slight. At barely 80 minutes, the potential for an epic, sweeping Wuxia isn't there but Wen Shui-On's original novel isn't extensive as such and naturally, the movie seems to correspond to that. While there is a theme of swordsman Tong Po Ka (Zhang Fengyi - Farewell My Concubine) trying to regain and maintain his inner soul, Chung doesn't prove adept at dramatic beats. We move way too quickly into and away from everything but The Assassin does possess better traits on an entertainment level.

Cinematography by Chiu Fei and Jonathan Wong's (Dr. Lamb) traditional score gives the gritty nature to the film a boost while the Category III rating allows action directors Tung Wai and Benz Kong to more constantly amp the blood and guts compared to other new wave efforts at the time. This darker aspect is otherwise a minor Chung forte (see Love To Kill) and outside of the action, he presents a fair few grisly in your face sights, including torture involving sewing prisoner's eyes shut. Still, when no performer makes an impact either (film also stars Max Mok and Rosamund Kwan), you should turn to Ringo Lam's Burning Paradise and The Blade instead as they succeeded on many more accounts.

The old Star Laserdisc and vcd (both had no subtitles) featured the full cinema edit but subsequent video versions (including releases by Tai Seng and Winson) are missing about 6 minutes worth of footage.

The Association (1975) Directed by: Jeng Cheong-Woh

It's nice to know your jaw can still hit the floor hundreds upon hundreds of martial arts movies into your fandom. And that genre is what you expect out of The Association being a Golden Harvest production after all, directed by King Boxer's Jeng Cheong-Woh, co-starring Angela Mao, Whang In-Shik, Sammo Hung and Carter Wong in a cameo but what you get is a whimsy sleaze fest that thankfully entertains. In his only role in a Hong Kong film, Korean martial arts expert Byong Yu stars as a cop who is going to take down an evil general (Chiu Hung), an association performing abortions due to unwanted pregnancies and thief Chu Yan Kwei is approaching fast to also do something the no nonsense cop will stop. Containing an undeveloped love story and tragedy between Byong and Angela Mao, her character is executed and in comes the sharp shooting sister but this isn't potential drama the production is interested in. Sure the martial arts is of high quality when it does appear but the adult factor with rape, murder, nudity, weird dances to accompany the abortion ceremony is priority one for the movie despite barely being finished and tied together. This flimsy nature to the film still adds up to a fast moving, entertaining whole that shows, just like Stoner did, an open mind by Golden Harvest when it comes to pushing for sleaze.

The Attractive One (2004) Directed by: Matt Chow

Acclaimed writer Matt Chow (Bullets Over Summer, Juliet In Love, Going Home) scored critical acclaim eventually as director with Itchy Heart only to totally hit a brick wall with 2004's The Attractive One. Showcasing no confidence in making simple romantic and comedic material fly or in his stars (Lau Ching Wan and Joey Yung), the film wanders endlessly in unspecial territory until it hits you during one of Chapman To's aggravating scenes. However it's not a positive revelation, it's just the definite proof that Chow has strung together contrasting material, hoping it will be poignant, funny and strangely does not realize that it's stupid decisionmaking all the way here. Somehow I have my doubts that surreal wacky material such as Joey Yung's character growing a moustache whenever things are going bad or the breakout into further surrealism is audience pleasing (and Lau's Ching Wan with his huge birth mark never gets an even slight mention or examination. Now that's money wasted on make-up!). Others do this better, others do romantic comedies better. When you summarize a film like The Attractive One as weird, you're approaching disastrous levels and Matt Chow's film can't be embraced for the poor level it's at either! Now, when is Lau Ching Wan, who does showcase a second or two of his undeniable coolness and charisma, going to choose movie projects more wisely?

Buy the DVD at:
Yesasia.com

Autumn Moon (1992) Directed by: Clara Law

Teenage girl Wai (Li Pui-Wai) and Tokio (Japanese actor Masatoshi Nagase) share an autumn's tale, not a love story but a story of emotions. From Wai's point of view it's about daring or choosing to show emotions towards the school boy she's in love before immigrating to Canada where her parents are waiting. A fear is also to lose a big emotional anchor in the form of her grandmother, who is going to be left behind for practical reasons. Tokio is at the other end of the spectrum, having experienced so many emotions that he's now numb and completely disillusioned...

Much featured can be recognized from previous Clara Law movies but Autumn Moon is a different beast nonetheless. Law and partner Eddie Fong this time again explores issues surrounding immigration but shot within an art house style, utilizing voiceover of self contemplation, long uninterrupted takes and slow pace. But what's important to point out that it's never painfully slow nor is the film abstract. Law shoots in her natural static ways, mixing video and film, adding a subtlety not previously visible in her work but she proves to be very adept in communicating through that narrative choice. Adept is also her direction of leads Li Pui-Wai and Masatoshi Nagase, both mainly using rough English delivery but not in any way does that hinder the emotions, intentions and journeys they both have to embody. Li reportedly never starred in a film again which is a shame because she's a definite natural talent.

The Category III rating is due to a few scenes of fairly graphic sex but Autumn Moon represents a rare example where it's definitely part of the storytelling. Tony Cheung's cinematography is simple but beautiful without being intruding and comedian Tats Lau switches to composer with very atmospheric results.

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