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Angel 3 (1989) 
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Burning Godzilla
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Angel 3 (1989)

Aka Iron Angels 3; Return of the Iron Angels

Starring: Moon Lee, Alex Fong, Kharina Isa, Ralph Chan, Mark Steinborn, Katy Hickman, Tam Wai-Man, Panna Rittikrai
Director(s): Teresa Woo, Stanley Tong
Action: Dang Tak-Wing

As Wonder Woman is wowing both critics and audiences, finally showing us that it is possible for Hollywood to do a superheroine movie right, let us reflect on just how hard it’s been for Hollywood to get the whole female action thing right. With few exceptions, it’s been very hard. Okay, done. Meanwhile, Hong Kong and Taiwan have been doing it with ease since the 60s, and maybe even longer. We got wuxia heroines played by like Josephine Siao and Cheng Pei Pei, and then kung fu heroines like Chia Ling, Angela Mao, Polly Shang Kuan Ling Feng, and more.

By 1983, things were changing. Period pieces were no longer bringing in the audiences like they used, unless they had some new state-of-the-art gimmick, like crazy whackadoo optical effects or giant ninjas who broke up into smaller ones. Audiences were more inclined to intense action-oriented comedies, like the combined works of Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung. They also liked John Woo-directed triad bullet ballets that made young kids forget about shaving their heads and joining Shaolin, and instead don trenchcoats, light dollar bills on fire, and join Triads. A lot of actors and fight choreographers who made a living with the old school kung fu movies had a hard time adapting and drifted into obscurity. But what about the women? Did the changes in audiences tastes mean that those powerful, butt-kicking members of the fair sex were also a thing of the past?

Hell no.

The “Girls n’ Guns” sub-genre began in 1985 with Corey Yuen’s Yes, Madam!, which introduced the world to former ballet dancer Michelle Yeoh and gwailo wushu champ Cynthia Rothrock. It was successful enough to get a sequel the following year, Royal Warriors, which has also become a classic of the genre. In 1987, female director Teresa Woo made a little film called Angel. It starred Yukari Oshima, a Japanese goju-ryu stylist who, until then, had mainly worked in Taiwan. It also featured Moon Lee, a Hong Kong singer/actress who hadn’t much experience in action movies, but had recently been training with the second important “fei jai” of Hong Kong cinema, Tsui Siu-Ming. Rounding out the cast was Elaine Lui, up-and-coming actor Alex Fong, Shaw Brothers alumni David Chiang, and your friend and mine, Legendary Superkicker Hwang Jang Lee. The result was a fun little action romp with one of the best mano-a-mano female fights of the genre.

The next year, Teresa Woo rounded up Elaine, Moon and Alex and made a sequel, Angel 2. The film was a little inferior to the last one, until the last twenty minutes, when it goes all Rambo on us, culminating with a legendary duel between Moon Lee, Chan Man-Ching and Yuen Tak. The fight choreographer was an up-and-coming stuntman named Stanley Tong, and whatever praised he garnered for his work here was channeled into his becoming “Executive Director” of tonight’s film.

Angel 3 begins with a Vietnamese diplomat arriving in Thailand for official business. The relationship between the two countries has apparently been strained, so the presence of the politician means that maybe they can start patching things up. Unfortunately, some terrorists appear and gun down the politician in cold blood. So much for improved relations.
At this point, Alex (a returning Alex Fong), who now runs the Angels, is contacted by the CIA and asked to help find out who’s responsible for the killings. I always found it weird that Alex Fong’s character is portrayed in Angel 2 and Angel 3 as being Moon Lee’s equivalent to Charlie, since that function was filled by David Chiang in the first film. In Angel, Alex Fong was the Angels’ CIA contact, so the switcharoo of his roles is sort of odd.

In any case, agent Moon (Lee) is dispatched to intercept a Japanese assassin who’s been hired to join the assassins, who’s run by a gwailo girl (Katy Hickman) and is apparently under orders from the late Moammar Khadaffi himself(!). I’m not sure why Khadaffi would be so interested in sewing discord in SE Asia, but this was made in the 80s, so maybe it’s one of those ripped from the papers dealies. Moon joins the assassins, proving her merit by beating up the flunkies in two separate fights. She tries to sneak into her boss’s study, but is caught and another fight breaks out, after which she escapes.

A few days later, there’s a big party at the King of Thailand’s mansion, attended by lots of foreign dignitaries. Suddenly, the place is invaded by dozens of motorcycle-driving assassins who start mowing down the guests with Uzis attached to the handlebars. A huge gun battle erupts between the Thai military and an army of assassins, with the latter outnumbering the former. Cue the arrivial of Alex and Ralph, another male member of the team, who fly in on jet packs with Uzis mounted on them. May the unbelievable climax begin.

I know a lot of people consider this to be the least in the series, of which I’m inclined to agree. Part of it stems up from Teresa Woo’s script, which unwisely treats the scenes with Moon and those with Alex almost as two separate movies. There’s also some cutaways to a Libyan general (played by a white guy) who laughs maniacally and berates his black subordinate, but those two never interact with anybody else in the movie, so why were those scenes even included. I’m also convinced that Woo’s script ended up in a rather short movie, because there’s one sequence that goes on for a good 15 minutes in which Alex and Ralph go to muay thai match (you can’t have a movie set in Thailand without one of those), and Alex ends up challenging one of the fighters, played by a young Panna Rittikrai. The entire movie stops just for that sequence, and it adds nothing to the film.

I think the part of the blame lands on Stanley Tong. I’m not sure, but as good a fight choreographer and stunt director the man is, he’s really not that good of an action director. That is, I do not think the man makes good decisions when it comes to where to take the action and what to do with the action. Elaine Lui is absent from this film, which is unfortunate. But Kharina Isa, who played the machine gun-toting transsexual soldier in Angel 2 is back. So what does she do in this movie? ABSOLUTELY NOTHING! Then why even include her in the movie?

And then there’s the finale. Yes, it’s bloody and violent with an exceedingly high body count, just the way we HK cinephiles like it. Sure, the jet pack-mounted Uzis never need reloading, but that’s okay, since it’s such a bizarre, James Bondian touch (more proof that Stanley Tong had more say in the action than frequent collaborator Dang Tak-Wing did) that we’ll let it slide. But really, who goes to see a movie called Angel 3 starring Moon Lee, only for her to disappear from the film prior to the climax and focus on Alex Fong and friggin’ Ralph Chan? Nobody, that’s who. We want to see Moon beat the hell out of Katy Hickman and then blow the back of her skull out with a large revolver, not Alex Fong. And sadly, this would be the first, but not the only time that Stanley Tong would botch a climax. See Project S, China Strike Force and The Myth for more examples.

That said, the fighting itself in the film is pretty good. Moon Lee is at her absolute best (like I said, Stanley Tong and his crew are great choreographers, even if he makes questionable decisions as a director) and the scene where she fights an army of blade-wielding killers with a pair of nunchaku is one of the best fights of her career. She gets in four fights, which are easily the highlights of the film. Alex Fong is pretty obviously not a trained fighter, as you can see from his Keanu Reeves-esque stiff moves and kicks that rarely go above stomach level. But Stanley Tong and Dang Tak-Wing choreograph him well enough that he keeps up a good rhythm in his fights. The final fight, while disappointing in conception, is enjoyable in execution as Fong wields a rapier against Hickman, who wields a curved knife that reminds me of Die Hard with a Vengeance and a Thai woman, who has a more conventional dagger. It’s a very bloody fight, which is par for the course with these Angel films.

In closing, the film is perfectly entertaining if taken solely on its action merits. But as a Girls n’ Guns film, its refusal to have a female heroine take part in the bullet-riddled final set piece knocks it down several rungs, even if the female-oriented action before it would’ve placed it near the very top.

I wrote a book!

Sun Jun 04, 2017 2:12 am
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