My first movie reviews for the blog! Bite-sized and informal. Contain spoilers.
The Inspector Wears Skirts (aka Top Squad) (1988)
After saving a sheik, Sibelle Hu and Cynthia Rothrock are commissioned to train an all-female commando unit! Can their recruits (including Kara Hui, Ellen Chan, and Sandra Ng) endure the training? Can they overcome the romantic tension imposed by neighboring all-male ‘Tiger’ squad? Can they foil a jewelry heist lead by Jeffrey Falcon? For no particular reason (I mean, check out that cast) I had looooooow expectations for this, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that it’s actually quite good. Cool stunts, good fight choreography, nice long shots for the action sequences. . . yeah, the middle was forty minutes of boot camp comedy fluff, but I thought a lot of it (Sandra Ng’s crazy dance, a training exercise where the recruits race fire by running across gasoline-soaked planks) was genuinely funny. Or maybe I’m just beginning to appreciate HK humor? They say it’s an acquired taste. Also worth noting: despite the large cast everyone gets a chance to shine, and the annoyingly chauvinistic secondary male characters don’t get a disproportionate amount of fight time, a frustrating bait-and-switch that often mars HK girls-with-guns flicks.
Fantasy Mission Force (1983)
Stupid-awesome anachronistic crazy HK action flick (if you say it loud enough you’ll always sound. . . never mind). It’s about that one time during WWII when the Japanese invaded Canada and captured Abraham Lincoln and the Chinese got angry and assembled an elite strike force to get him back. But unfortunately for Abe, James Bond was busy, Snake Plissken died three years ago, and Rocky wasn’t even in the military, so the Chinese settled for Mr. Bandito Mustache, Mr. White Tuxedo, Mr. Guy in a Kilt, Mr. Guy in Archaic Armor with a Spiked Helmet, a guy named Greased Lightning, and also a cowgirl with a bazooka, played by Brigitte Lin before she met Tsui Hark and got to be in good movies. So these crack commandos go on the mission and along the way they fight off Amazons, hopping vampires, car-surfing Nazis, and Jackie Chan (who is in this film because he lost a bet or something?), while spouting off incredible wisdom, like: “I’m gonna sleep in the coffin. Do you want to come with me?” and “I don’t know any generals. To me you look like clowns!” Best worst movie I’ve seen since Riki-Oh.
Pacific Rim (2013)
Kaiju! Jaegers! Leeeeeeet’s fight! So I was a little disappointed with this one, probably because I went in with high expectations. On one hand, the action was nice. Normally I find CGI action kinda cartoony. I mean, people punch holes in walls and toss cars around and explode things, but all the spectacle lacks the proper wince-inducing impact of, say, a chucked stuntman breaking his fall with a conveniently placed table. Pacific Rim had impact: I was sold on the Jaeger slamming into Kaiju, stumbling around, shaking the earth and crushing buildings. Well done.
But on the other hand, I found the movie thematically incoherent (I know, I know, I praised the action and now I’m gonna get picky about themes?). So the central conceit was that you need two people to mind-link to pilot a Jaeger, which should naturally lead to themes of empathy and trust and working together, right? And the first half of the movie sets this stuff up. You have a guy traumatized by the death of his brother who needs to connect with a new Jaeger partner. You have a girl with self-control issues and an overprotective military father figure. Is it just me or is this clearly building up to a climactic action sequence where our heroes are getting their collective robot ass kicked and she’s like “We gotta do the thing!” and he’s like “No! It is too dangerous!” and she’s like “Trust me! I can’t do it without you!” and he’s like “No! I love you! I’m not going to watch you die! Like that time I watched my brother die!” and she’s like “I love you too! But you’re being too overprotective! Like my surrogate father!” and he’s like and she’s like and yeah. Instead we get a confusing guy-sacrifices-self-to-save-girl-(oh, so they weren’t expecting to die when they jumped in the dimensional rift)-but-lives-anyway thing. So disappointing! It undermines the strength of the female lead, it devalues the importance of teamwork, it reverses the previous “don’t be a lone wolf” message the film had going in the intra-team friction subplots. . . oh, well. Also, I was sorry to see the German and Chinese Jaegers get knocked off so early. What up with that?