Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Moon Lee and Yukari Oshima Beat the Odds -- and All the Men -- in “Angel Terminators II”

Bullet (Yukari Oshima) is released from prison and is greeted by her friends, including Chitty (Moon Lee). When Bullet, who was a member of a triad gang (Chinese criminal organization), goes to see her former boss -- on whose behalf she was imprisoned -- for money, he suggests payment by way of Chitty becoming a prostitute. The fiercely loyal Bullet is enraged and attacks the triad boss and his men, a fight that Chitty joins. The friends’ seemingly endless scuffles lead to a conflict with other triads, and when Bullet resorts to her old criminal ways, she incites a triad leader, “Mad” (Wong Chi-Yeung). Soon it seems that everyone is out for revenge, acts of violence which ultimately involve Bullet’s estranged father, Bao (Jason Pai Piao), and his impetuous partner called “Big Aunt” (Sibelle Hu).

Angel Terminators II (1993) was directed by Wong Chun-Yeung (also known as Simon Yun Ching or Tony Liu Jun-Guk, among other aliases) and Chan Lau, with Yuen Bo as action director. It is a sequel in name only to Angel Terminators from the previous year, a film that starred Carrie Ng and Japanese actress/stunt woman Michiko Nishiwaki.

The most significant quality of Angel Terminators II is that the female characters are indisputably the strongest. The movie opens with robbers who have taken hostages in a restaurant. Big Aunt is informed of the situation and runs inside (ahead of her male partner) with no hesitation. Though she is with uniformed officers and Bao, Big Aunt apparently thinks nothing of facing a robber armed with an assault rifle against her revolver. Her adeptness is even acknowledged when an officer, who does not appear to be injured, tosses his gun to her. Chitty and Bullet are introduced separately: Chitty training with a female opponent and Bullet coolly flashing an obscene gesture at the officers as she leaves the prison. However, after Chitty humiliates a man at a karaoke bar (she refuses his demand of stepping ahead of her and Bullet at karaoke), the women and their friends are attacked on the street. Chitty and Bullet take control of the scene by effortlessly beating the men and, for good measure, pulverizing their car with lead pipes that the men were using as weapons.

In contrast, the men in Angel Terminators II prove nearly worthless
. When Chitty, Bullet, and others confront triads who are blackmailing their friend, May, with an incriminating videotape, the two ladies burst through the door before anyone else. As if the question of who the real muscle is wasn’t already confirmed, Turkey (Lee Ho-Kwan) pulls a gun, the only person brandishing a weapon, and is quickly and easily disarmed. Only after the opponents are grounded is the gun retrieved, as Chitty kicks it into the air and catches it. The group narrowly escapes but is stopped, at which point Turkey once again points the firearm at triads and loses the weapon in little time. This not only expresses the skills of the women -- Turkey’s possession of the weapon means that Chitty has returned it to him, since she clearly doesn’t need it -- but, particularly when the triads realize that the gun is a fake, it’s difficult not to equate the gun’s lack of value with Turkey.

The remainder of the male cast falls in line with Turkey’s shortcomings. Another friend, Bull (Anthony Cho Cheuk-Nin), does little more than pine after Bullet (who doesn’t reciprocate) and cheer on the ladies. During the fight, their friend, “Chick,” actually stands behind May, the girl whom is, more or less, being rescued (and his name clearly alluding to the man as a “chicken”). Chitty’s uncle (Lo Lieh) has scars covering his body, but he literally puts people to sleep when telling the stories of how he got them. Even Bao, perhaps the most enduring of the males, is undermined by his inability to prevent his daughter, Bullet, from constantly running into trouble with the law.

The movie has a plethora of cues to
the characters as women, most of which are contradicted by their behavior. Chitty is in an all-women martial arts class, and she taunts her opponent and even distracts the coach so she can kick her rival a final time. Bullet’s old boss asks Chitty her name after arrogantly calling her “Little Sister,” to which Chitty mocks him by stating her name as Little Sister. She also casually leans against the wall once Bullet starts fighting the triads but immediately begins kicking the men when Bullet is hit with her back turned. Bullet wears pants with the word “slut” printed all over in bright red, as if she’s daring someone to call her that. She seems timid when Chitty wants to sing karaoke with her, but is not the least bit hesitant when the group is assaulted later. In one sequence, both Chitty and Bullet carry handbags, which they retain while engaging in fisticuffs. Chitty’s bag is even over her shoulders, like a school backpack, a considerable visual since she has convinced her uncle that she is still attending school. Big Aunt, for her part, is an antithesis to a stereotypically “prissy” woman: she wears a bulky jacket, talks with her mouth full while eating, and tries to start a fight with Mad after he insults her (and indeed fights him later when Bao isn’t there to stop her). Perhaps most memorable of all, Big Aunt tends to snarl at criminals as they walk away.

Moon Lee Choi-Fung had made appearances in such films as Tsui Hark’s classic, Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain (1983) and 1985’s Mr. Vampire (the first in an immensely popular series about hopping vampires), but it was her role in Angel (aka Iron Angels; Midnight Angels) in 1987 that established her as an action star. Angel is generally credited as the movie that spawned the “Girls with Guns” subgenre, which was most prevalent in Hong Kong. Lee is a petite woman, often affectionately described as “cute” or “adorable,” and watching the actress fight men practically twice her size is nothing short of exhilarating. Her skills are derived from dance as opposed to formally training in martial arts. Lee starred in a number of films throughout the late 80s and 90s but has since left the industry (though she occasionally crops up on TV or film) and is now focused on teaching dance.

Yukari Oshima trained as a stunt woman and appeared on Japanese television before starring in Hong Kong films. Her first notable role was as the malicious villain in Angel with Moon Lee. Oshima was unfortunately often relegated to supporting roles, and she’s typically remembered for her villainous characters, perhaps best known to Western audiences for her part in the cult Riki-Oh (1992/aka The Story of Ricky). In the mid- to late 90s, she relocated t
o the Philippines where she made films credited as Cynthia Luster. Though Oshima’s cinematic output has waned in recent years, she will reportedly star in Legendary Amazons, a film also starring Cecilia Cheung and Cheng Pei-Pei and produced by Jackie Chan, set for release sometime in 2011.

In addition to Angel, Lee and Oshima have starred in a number of movies together. Both actresses were in Mission of Justice (1992), played assassins in Dreaming the Reality (1991), also directed by Wong Chun-Yeung and co-starring Hu, and appeared with action stars Cynthia Khan and Nishiwaki in The Avenging Quartet (1993) -- though the four ladies sadly did not make up the “quartet.” Lee and Oshima fought one another, as protagonist and villain, in Angel, Kickboxer’s Tears (1992) and Beauty Investigator (1993). They reversed roles for A Serious Shock! Yes Madam! (1993/aka Yes Madam ‘92: A Serious Shock; Death Triangle), also starring Khan and featuring Lee in what is likely her only turn as villain.

London born Sophia Crawford, who played one of the more formidable foes to battle Chitty in Angel Terminators II, moved to Hong Kong to star in action films. After extensive training, Crawford became a familiar face in Hong Kong movies, often assigned the role of villain (which was typical for British actors). In the U.S., she has doubled for numerous actresses in stunts, most famously Sarah Michelle Gellar in the first four seasons of the popular TV series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Crawford is also a member of the United Stuntwomen’s Association.


One of the biggest disappointments of Hong Kong films is that actresses such as Moon Lee and Yukari Oshima never achieved international success like Jackie Chan, Jet Li or Michelle Yeoh. Likewise, it’s a shame that their movies are so hard to find. Angel Terminators II is one of their very best, as each woman displays her acting chops and martial arts prowess. Though they may be unknown to the mainstream, Lee and Oshima are held in high esteem among fans of Hong Kong cinema, two remarkable ladies whose impression on action films is everlasting.

8 comments:

  1. Sark, judging from your marvelous review, I am sure ANGEL TERMINATORS II (spiffy title!) is a film I'd thoroughly enjoy. I'm not very familiar with the films of Moon Lee Choi-Fung and Yukari Oshima, but am aware of the "mini-genre" of Asian action films with strong female leads. That genre seems to date back to the 1970s, with action stars like Angela Mao, but then exploded in the 1990s and later with star vehicles from Michelle Yeoh, Brigitte Lin, (more recently) Qi Shu, and many others. Even films with male leads, like KUNG FU HUSTLE, feature strong female characters of all ages. It's a sharp contrast to English-language films where female action stars are still few and far between. Love your photos, by the way. Moon Lee does indeed look petite, but--after reading your review--I feel pretty intimidated by her!

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  2. Sark, forgiver me for being late with my comment -- the time got away from me! I would like to see this movie! It is unusual for its time it seems, in the strong leading females. I love the characters of Chitty, Bullet and Big Aunt, their interaction and personality traits. You make the fight scenes sound so well-done, some really funny (love the handbags!)

    Moon Lee is a Chinese name, isn't it? And Yukari Oshima must be Japanese, as well as most of the others involved. Was it unusual for a movie of that era to have both Chinese and Japanese actors, if that is the case?

    As I mentioned to Rick on his article, my oldest son is referring me to martial arts movies he thinks represent the genre. This movie is one I am going to put on the list myself! Thanks for a great read, Sark!

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  3. Becky, Yukari Oshima is indeed Japanese. It may be unusual for a Japanese actress to play a lead (as Oshima was able to, though not often enough), but no, it wasn't unusual to see Japanese stars in Hong Kong films. That's also true for British actors, particularly since HK was under British rule until 1997 (though UK actors were usually villains or extras). At that time, there was a clear separation of mainland China and HK (and even post-1997, that's still true to some extent), but that didn't stop actors from the mainland starring in HK films, and many of them becoming stars (Jet Li, for instance, who was born in Beijing).

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  4. Sark, I couldn't help but notice that given the names of the two protagonists, this film might have been subtitled "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang."

    It sounds like this is a fun film for women, filled with attitude, not the least of whom is Big Aunt. The photos tell a story in themselves. Great post!

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  5. Moon Lee was awesome as one of the Blue Angels in "Killer Angels." That's my favorite of her movies.

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  6. I must say although I really like this movie (maybe it's not the best movie neither Moon nor Oshima, but form me it's the best film they play together, except The Angel), I always stop watching it at 1:17:30. I think it should end in a different way. In my opinion this film was killed by its end.

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  7. The characters' names alone are entertaining enough! What a wild plotline. Sark, you sure know some obscure kung-fu films. Loved reading your review.

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  8. This has an very interesting plot to say the least! I love the characters and their names. I know I haven't seen this one so I need to find it. I enjoyed the cool photos too. Nicely written review and I enjoyed it, Sark.

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