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In Hell (2003, Ringo Lam)

Ringo Lam’s third collaboration with Jean-Claude Van Damme takes a hard right and disposes of plot centering on twin characters and clones but he’s dealing in duality nevertheless as Van Damme’s Kyle LeBlanc struggles to survive mentally and physically in a Russian prison. All the tropes are present and it’s no contender versus Prison On Fire but for a seemingly a direct to video release, there’s more thought and competence on display than you might expect. Including the next chapter of how Lam evolves Van Damme as an actor. It’s easy to get past the clichés the rough Russian prison holds in terms of stock characters as matters are swift and when you get a grasp of Lam’s focus, In Hell reveals itself to be a bit more unusual. The LeBlanc character is not a fighter, not a true weakling but he gives up understandably only to be carried by the mental strength his murdered wife leaves behind. Including in a potentially corny sequence where an insect in solitary confinement becomes his savior (a scene that might be more in his head than literal). Finding the will to maintain humanity and at the same time play by the internal rules of the prison, Lam does fairly well examining how shaping yourself can mean a diminished soul. Mature tangents, often performed with stripped down dialogue for Van Damme in an effective move, that’s what we’re driving towards and not the gritty tournament fighter the movie suggests. The stunts- and fight choreography is usually on point as well, with little to no refined style (a deliberate design choice). It's a case where punches and kicks are as basic as they are hard hitting and punishing as they occur. A little too verbal towards the end as it introduces a new plot development, Ringo Lam shows a desire to make something new and good rather than rehashed and his return to prison is welcome because of how it challenges our perception of a the genre movie at hand. And a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie.

The Innocent Interloper (1986) Directed by: Johnny Wang

A couple of violent and bleak movies into his directorial career, Johnny Wang takes his style outside of Shaw Brothers and delivers more accessible mainstream entertainment across the board but with a punch. Concerning Hwang Jang-Lee's Paleface stealing a couple of money printing plates that then ends up in the hands of social rehabilitation teacher Shee (Lawrence Ng), the hunt is now on but with the help of Paleface and the tough Hung (Elaine Lui), they now have a team that can hold off whatever the triads throw at them. Showcasing early he insists on the stunts making noise, Wang ejects the brutal, distressing violence from prior movies in favour of hard hitting fights and stunts coupled with a comedic aura that actually does not make the movie as much of a multi mood exercise as you might think. It may not be for all ages but the wider appeal is here through a light comedic tone that isn't hilarity personified but there's a fun, relaxed vibe here that works rather well combined with the assault of action. Featuring a lot of cameos to keep us occupied along the way (Wong Jing, Charlie Cho, Danny Lee, Bill Tung, Michael Chan as a robber walking into an apartment with mouse traps and Lily Li among others), Wang's greatest gift to us is Elaine Lui. Being incredibly game and skilled (coupled with excellent doubling at points), she gets into this mix of fights and painful stunts like a seasoned pro and director Wang keeps up momentum for her and the movie all throughout its finale. Hard and light moods rarely combine this well in Hong Kong cinema.

Insanity (1993) Directed by: Tony Leung

Renowned action choreographer Tony Leung's work as director actually includes a pair admirable excursions into the horror genre, working best to his advantage in Vendetta (starring Ray Lui and Kent Cheng). Made the same year, Insanity is the lesser of the two but shows Leung getting some mileage out of the small project at hand despite. Although structuring two ideas around the same movie was never the best instinct.

Simon Yam appears briefly at the beginning as a cop which then leads us into the haunted "scary" statue movie of the movie. The statue that should ward off spirits but instead spooks newlyweds Kathy Chow and Raymond Wong. But you must remember Simon Yam was in this movie too so at the half way point Leung gives us the 40 minute trapped alone with a deranged killer-movie. Treating us to all of the clichés of this scenario, Leung crafts decent chills out of it though. Simon Yam in over the top deranged-mode doesn't equal his more famous turn in Dr. Lamb but is a fun driving force nonetheless. Atmosphere prior to all this has been more forced with Leung utilizing bleak cinematography to evoke doom but the harsh blacks and blues are little mood-setters for when Kathy Chow fights back in and around her isolated house. With Leung also incorporating some gritty violence worthy of his action directing talents, it's easy for the short time it visits, to take a brief liking to Insanity.

The Inside Track (1994, Otto Chan)

Ruthless Lau Fei (James Pax), a high ranking presence at a Hong Kong jockey club, is being under investigation for fixing races and also tries to groom a young protege (Wong Kwan-Yuen - All About Ah Long). But the youngster is trained and supported by those wishing to play by the book as well. Since the interest in horse racing is high in Hong Kong, it makes sense that this kind of story would be developed for the big screen. Since famed horse commentator and actor Bill Tung also appears as an expert, stage is set. Problem is, Otto Chan (more comfortable in darker, adult territory like in Diary of A Serial Killer) shows no particular interest making the world immersive and the push into the behind closed doors darkness barely registers (save for a questionable scene where a horse is forced fed liquid through its nose to drain poison out of its system). By making the investigative nature represented by Carrie Ng and Manfred Wong essentially a comedic one, The Inside Track shows it doesn't particularly care.

Inspector Pink Dragon (1991) Directed by: Gordon Chan

Gordon Chan and frequent collaborator Lawrence Cheng in an amusing manner gives us a comedy with suitable hints at Peter Seller's Inspector Jacques Clouseau of The Pink Panther films. Content being more subdued compared to other Hong Kong comedies, Inspector Pink Dragon therefore works better as it's entertaining without being aggravating. Cheng also perfectly anchors the film, filling the shoes to the T of a timid, cocky buy largely useless cop. Suitable menace crops up in Damian Lau's villainous performance as well, showcased the best during the end shootout (choreographed by Deon Lam and Tony Leung Siu Hung). This synch sound production also gives us a chance to for once hear Rosamund Kwan and Nina Li act. Waise Lee, Tony Leung Ka-Fai, Kenneth Tsang and Fruit Chan stops by as well.

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The Inspectors Wears Skirts (1988) Directed by: Wellson Chin

Jackie Chan acted as producer/action choreographer on this comedy concerning females in police training and with Wellson Chin directing the bunch of fine looking ladies, the success came. So much so that three sequels were produced. Everybody probably went home happy as the mix for The Inspectors Wears Skirts has it all but in terms of comedy and romance plotting, this is really Police Academy 5 standard already in the first of this series (there are some scattered better gags towards the end however). But having Jackie on board helps immensely and the involved parties do get a good and dangerous workout under his direction. The outtakes are proof of this, especially the fire walk sequence. Starring Sibelle Hu, Kara Hui, Cynthia Rothrock, Sandra Ng, Amy Yip, Ellen Chan, Ann Bridgewater, Stanley Fung, Alex To and Billy Lau. Jeff Falcon, Shing Fui On, Michael Chow, Ricky Hui and Mars can also be seen.

The Inspectors Wears Skirts Part II (1989) Directed by: Wellson Chin

Literally an unscripted sequel and again a box-office smash, the formula for this series proved to work again as most key personnel returned, including producer Jackie Chan. No one would blame you for thinking you've accidentally started watching the first The Inspectors Wears Skirts again though as director Wellson Chin goes through all the same routines, focusing much on the largely grating acts of Sandra Ng and Billy Lau for starters. Furthermore, there's another dance showdown, more training, limp romance and Chin does the right commercial thing by centering a whole lot of jokes around Amy Yip's enhanced assets. Amusing at times just because it is so silly and childish, this is just a series of skits with tacked on action scenarios so that Jackie can do something. It's a step down in scale from the first film but the reprise of the gymnasium ring fight and the finale offers up painful stunts to a decent degree.

Inspector Wears Skirts IV (1992) Directed by Wellson Chin

So where did part 3 go then? Well, the Wellson Chin directed Raid on Royal Casino Marine (1990) was actually the third edition of the previously popular series but it never had any other aka, hence being looked over (and according to some, rightly so). Box-office numbers started to decrease and the situation for Inspector Wears Skirts IV turned even worse, hence ending a film series that had relatively little going for it anyway (the Jackie Chan action of the first remains one of the sole highlights). Despite, Wellson Chin still doesn't venture far from his "winning" formula of broad comedy and action (yes, there is a sing and dance number and gym fight in this one as well) but this 1992 production does contain ingredients that at times make it fly. Those ingredients are action starlets Cynthia Khan and Moon Lee who does get a chance to let it rip at the end in an energetic tussle with Chui Jing-Yat. At other times, the film is quite unbearable (in particular a painfully unfunny Police Story parody featuring the other Sandra Ng by the name of Sheila Chan) and is just assorted skits strung together via the bad guy plot. It sure beats installment number two then and does feature small, quirky delights, including mini bombs placed inside people and Khan possessing extravagant gear straight from the Q-headquarters. Also with Kara Hui, Sandra Ng, Billy Lau, Wu Fung, Peter Chan and Paul Fonoroff.

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HK Flix.com

Instant Rage (1987) Directed by: Philip Fraser

Combining Filmark-shot ninja action footage and narrative with a Thailand source gangster movie of low budget proportions, it all could've been something if an energy was present. It initially looks to be as it's fun to have said ninjas look in on the Thai footage, its action heroine looks fairly powerful (in way too sped up fights though) and they even feature a man with super human strength! But that minute color does not translate to energy and the familiar country side action-feel of many Thai actioners rears its head soon. They try to feature it all such as car chases, martial arts, gunplay but no spike in fun ever occurs. Filmark's footage combined with all this makes little to no impression either and even the ninja scenes seems awfully dull in execution.

The Intellectual Trio (1985) Directed by: Guy Lai

Already at the English title stage this Guy Lai directed 80s romp doesn't make sense. Dropping into his rusty blender a quartet of pickpockets (Sandy Lam and Joyce Ngai being two), a Hong Kong cop (Leslie Cheung), a Taiwan cop (Billy Lau) and an assassin (Joh Chung) looking for a jade that means the completion of his mission, Lai hopes for the best and ends up with the worst. It's playing the commercial game but giving the audiences nothing to enjoy, unless you count ONE montage set to a Leslie Cheung song, featuring even more silliness than before, and a drinking contest. Catching our attention by randomly killing off a character and stealing the ending from Nighthawks in the process, The Intellectual Trio is thoroughly clueless and a waste of time. Written by Wong Kar-Wai and co-starring Charlie Cho.

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