Saturday, January 2, 2010

Iron Angels (1987)

aka Angel

In one of those periodically waged wars on drugs, a handful of Asian police forces throw in with each other and actually manage to shut down most of the opium cultivation in the Golden Triangle (or "Colden Frangle", as the sub-titles call it). On paper, this is quite an achievement, but in practice this success only manages to piss of the especially nasty female gangster boss Yeung (Yukari Oshima) who now proceeds to take vengeance on the international police forces by killing or kidnapping as many cops as she and her allies can get their hands on.

This special sort of gang violence finally bothers the Americans so much that they send Commander Fong (Alex Fong) to Hong Kong where Yeung's base is supposed to be located. Fong isn't there to directly help the Hong Kong police, though, he instead - in typical US fashion - brings with him enough money to hire the Angels (not belonging to a guy named Charlie), some extra special investigators who never fail.

Boss Angel John Keung (David Chiang, leaving the action beyond flying around in a helicopter and talking into ridiculously large phones to the younger generation) puts his best people on the mission - Japanese martial artist and Angel #1 Saijo (Saijo Hideki), Moon (Moon Lee) and Elaine (Elaine Lui). Together with Fong, the quartet starts its mission of protecting the police by stealing Yeung's newest drug delivery. Their plans aren't getting any better after that.

Iron Angels, sporting something between three or four directors, is usually seen as one of the core films of the Girls With Guns sub-genre of Hong Kong action cinema, and I for one am not going to deny what the Internet says in this case, seeing how the film features two of the poster childs of the genre in form of Moon Lee and Yukari Oshima and how much the male characters are side-lined. The latter is really a good thing - Saijo and especially Fong are serviceable in their action scenes, but also dreadfully boring in their dramatic ones. The female leads won't win any acting awards either, yet all three jump into their roles with an abandon and enthusiasm that makes for truly good action film acting.

Yukari Oshima does of course do her patented evil dominatrix bit, with additional evil grimacing and crushing of men under her thighs. I think it is what the British call a "charming display of femininity", and I as someone easily falling for such things found myself quite charmed by her performance.

How much a given viewer will enjoy a Girls With Guns film like Iron Angels does not depend on the film's quality alone, but very much on a given viewer's expectations. If you go into one of these films expecting tight plotting, deep characterization or anything clever or complicated, you will most certainly be terribly disappointed. The budgets of the Girls With Guns films were usually low even for the traditional seat of your pants standards of Hong Kong cinema of the period, so scripts (if the films weren't improvised on the spot) had to be written with what was available in mind, and not the other way around, so there weren't many possibilities for doing anything fancy. Fortunately, some things were cheap in Hong Kong at the time, namely shabby industrial areas to film in, fake blood and stuntpeople and young actors willing to do any mad thing a director would ask of them.

After a rather slow beginning, the Iron Angels starts to deliver on its cheap-skate promises with a vengeance. There is much breathless and slightly mad punching, shooting and jumping to witness, some motorcycle and car stunts that look so dangerous nobody would dare to do them without heavy CGI work today. Everything of course culminates in a fast and brutal beat-down (with added explosives) that should satisfy every friend of fast and brutal beat-downs the world around.

The directors (how many they may or may not have been) don't recommend themselves through any interesting or annoying visual florishes. They know how to helm action scenes and how to keep a film moving and that's that. More importantly, that's good enough in this case.


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