The Stuntwoman (1996)
Directed by: Ann Hui
Ah Kam (Michelle Yeoh) gets her chance at stunt-fame when she joins a group of stuntmen and its director Master Tung (Sammo Hung). She gains the respect of the group and starts to evolve herself too. When meeting and falling in love with pretty boy Sam (Jimmy Wong - Slow Fade), she is separated from her group of friends and seems to spiraling the wrong way...
Also known as Ah Kam: Story of a Stuntwoman, Ann Hui's feature following Summer Snow, the critical and awards explosion towards her gentle story of an Alzheimer's inflicted man (Roy Chiao), takes a turn into territory destined to be noticed by more than just fans of measured Ann Hui cinema. Yes, it's a story set IN Hong Kong cinema, behind the scenes, in a dramatic way (as opposed to the more witty ways in Derek Yee's and Law Chi-Leung's Viva Erotica from the same year) and suitably enough, action icons Michelle Yeoh and Sammo Hung take center stage. One of many candidates to gladly suffer the odd bruise and break, in fact Michelle Yeoh sustained quite a serious injury on set as she mistimed a jump but I would like to say it was worth the sacrifice for the final product. I can't, as Ann Hui misfires in an annoying way. One being that the messy film doesn't seem like a love letter to the cinema she works in at all.
Her writers were coming off The Log and Summer Snow and Hui certainly has expressed warmth towards the action part of Asian cinema, both as a fan of King Hu and Chang Cheh. We're treated to the nuts and bolts of what goes on behind a Hong Kong action movie, featuring players in character roles that we are delighted to see, such as Mang Hoi. An elaborate opening crane shot, some mistimed realism when it comes to creating the non-realistic action scenes within the movie but clearly a tale of group dynamics, somewhat of a heart seems in place anyway. Business is as usual for these workers within a very risky and low paid industry and certain scenes combined with score really does bring out the love for the hard labour someone on the production of The Stuntwoman has.
Enter Ah Kam who has a very quick transition from wannabee stuntwoman to taking over directing reigns and risks. That awfully quick transition signals some warnings but in a way it makes sense looking at subsequent sections where she's steered away from the stunt profession. Here is a girl who's not learned many steps in life and her quick, many, many ventures perhaps represents the most dangerous stunts of all? Within an earthly and rooted look nicely created by cinematographer Ardy Lam (A Battle Of Wits), if we would've gotten a low-key but generally pleasant little tale about what's described above, The Stuntwoman could've been a winner. As it turns out, Ann Hui is a little angry too and with that anger comes a sloppiness, lack of focus and most importantly, approval.
Because things turn a little crappy for Ah Kam as crappy people are prone to doing crappy things but what doesn't kill you makes you stronger is the argument. All fine and well and we can take Hui agreeing with the writer's on being mean towards people we don't approve of being subjected to crap. But someone's bad mood (Hui's) doesn't stop the movie sliding into all manner of detours that makes the plate endlessly full. At a point there's core character death, followed by goofy gangsters, reflective voice over and you wonder when is it going to stop? Couldn't it have stopped earlier and does this really fall in line with the celebration of the hard working group?
Answer is no and when final tally comes through, Ann Hui has given Hong Kong cinema two slaps in the face. One in the movie and one towards the movie she created. Although her pace is much better than her ACTUAL better cinema such as Boat People and Eighteen Springs. Plus performers Michelle Yeoh and in particular Sammo Hung look very comfortable embodying the little girl and the tired master respectively. Further proof that at least the latter should get and take the chance to further expand on his excellent subtle, acting. As for Ann Hui and The Stunt Woman, amazingly enough it's totally watchable if you just want to watch something but it represents many train of thoughts at once and that makes it lose its battle with warmth. Oh what a simple classic she almost had.
Mei Ah presents the film in an aspect ratio of 1.75:1 approximately, with anamorphic enhancement. Fairly dirty at points, the print otherwise fares well in colours and sharpness-departments without blowing anyone away.
The Cantonese Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track sounds clear for all intents and purposes. Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1 and Mandarin Dolby Digital 2.0 selections are also available.
Some grammar- and spelling errors turn the translation on its head at times but overall the English subtitles are perfectly coherent. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also included. The useless Mei Ah Databank is the only "extra".
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson