Monday, April 07, 2008

From Beneath the Living Room Table – Obscure and Forgotten HK Films

Physical space in New York City apartments is a scarce resource. Every square inch tends to be treasured, guarded and utilized. If you are a collector it can get a little bit crowded in there. Much to my surprise, I have somehow managed to gather large amounts of DVDs over the past few years and need to squash them as best as possible into my limited space. As the collection has grown other things have had to be dispensed with – books, furniture, glasses, pots and pans and so on. I now use all the cabinets and drawers in my kitchen to store DVD’s. Who needs to cook in NYC anyway? Beneath my living room table lays the remnants of a past age. Tapes. Remember those bulky items that had to be rewound? For you kids out there, once upon a time there was no Internet to download or order movies and no DVDs in which to complain about anamorphic layering whatever that is.

If you were an Asian film fan, finding tapes of heard about films was a treasure hunt as you scoured through all the video stores in Chinatown in hopes of getting a score. You were thrilled to find any tape of the film no matter what generation it was or what the screen ratio was. I used to have a sizable collection of those as well before most were replaced by DVDs, but I still have tapes of a hundred or so movies that have yet to make it to a digital format – often for good reason as they are probably really really bad films but I hope a few of them may be undiscovered pleasures. I’d like to free up this valuable real estate so I am in the process of converting them all to DVD’s and after doing so will try to write up reviews on some of them just for posterity sakes. Perhaps a few may be available on the gray market, but at least as far as I know there is no legitimate digital version of these films out there. I am going to refer to these films as From Beneath the Living Room Table – Obscure and Forgotten HK Films. Here is the first one – an old fashioned low budget “girls with guns” film. For some odd reason this genre has gotten the short shrift in terms of getting on to DVD – a number of classic ones have never made it. This would not be one of them.

Brave Young Girls
Director: Kam Bo
Hong Kong
Year: 1990
Length: 86 minutes

This 1990 “Girls with Guns” flick has some great talent onboard, but never utilizes them as well as it should have. From the mid-1980’s to the early 90’s low budget production companies were spitting out these types of films by the handful but the vast majority of them had extremely generic storylines that were in place simply to support the action set pieces. In truth “Girls with Guns” fans could generally care less about plot and not much more about characterization – and forget about sets or design – just find a warehouse and have a fight. Action is what mattered and this is what these types of films are judged on – how many fights and how good was the action choreography. This one falls into mid-range territory with a number of decent fights but they tend to be shorter than one would like and the camera placement is surprisingly weak often showing the punches and kicks missing their intended targets by a good margin.

Through different paths four women find themselves banding together to take down the bad guys. Hong (Margaret Lee Tin-long) is part of a brother/sister robbery duo who have sneaked in from China and need money to pay for their mother’s treatment. In an attempted robbery the brother is killed by the police and Hong goes on the run. Li (Jo Jo Ngan Lai-yue) has just returned from school and dear mom (Pak Yan) and pop (Gam Bui) want her to make some money by becoming a hostess. Due to their gambling problem they are deeply in hock to Cheng Gai (Shing Fui-on). Cheng Gai is a nasty piece of work who runs girls, lends money and deals in drugs. When the girls cross him he doesn’t hesitate to punch them in the face or force them to drink urine (which his men happily supply). Li also goes on the run where she crosses paths and helps Hong avoid capture by the cops. She stays with her grandfather (veteran actor Cheung Hei), but her parents track her down and drag her back to work at a club run by Cheng Gai and his girlfriend (Betty Chan Pooi-kei). Hong eventually also begins working for Cheng Gai as a chicken in a one-woman brothel. Another prostitute Jenny (Ha Chi-chun) is a tough cookie who helps Li escape from the clutches of a horny client one night.

Into this social drama comes a Japanese female cop who is working with the HK cops to bring down Cheng Gai and his boss Reng Ga (Leung Kar-yan). This cop of course is played by the great Yukari Oshima. She doesn’t show up till the 45-minute mark but does so with an immediate fight with Cheng Gai and his gang and besides the pleasure of watching Yukari and her great kicks, the viewer is given the opportunity to see her fight Shing Fui-on – I don’t recall too many films showing his kung fu skills – for good reason! Yukari later enlists the brave young girls to work undercover for her – but they are soon captured and tied up. Yukari shows up to save the day and has a solid though much too quick fight with Dan Mintz and then a better one with Leung Kar-yan.

There are a couple other smaller fights along the way – one that opens the film but has no women involved. In a pointless but much appreciated cameo Kara Hui Ying-hung shows up to kick lots of butt and then walks off never to be seen again! I wanted more Kara! It is a solid fight though. One poorly used action actress is Ha Chi-chun who was a terrific but little known player – one of her best known roles is as a Viet Cong in Eastern Condors – she has great skills but only gets to use them in a small fight near the end. The action choreography is from James Ha who also plays one of the thugs who gets beaten up a few times. It is decent though clearly quickly shot film and Yukari has a few real good moments of acrobatic flips and falls and her trademark kick over her head move. All in all not a bad addition to this genre but it could have been lots better.

My rating for this film: 6.0

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