Saturday, September 22, 2012

El Professore Movie Reviews: Angel (aka Iron Angels)

Director: Teresa Woo, Raymond Leung
Starring: Moon Lee, Yukari Oshima, Elaine Liu, Alex Fong, Hwang Jang Lee, David Chiang
* * *
One of the pioneering films in the 'Girls With Guns' subgenre of late '80s Hong Kong action films (this one actually lensed in Taiwan), 'Angel' as it's title suggests is a variation of Charlie's Angels. Unlike it's US TV inspiration, it features four heroes with two of them being male. It also features a level bloodletting, sadism and over the top hard hitting action that would never have made it past the censors if filmed here.

Full review after the jump.

The plot: after having their opium fields burned and destroyed by Interpol, the various underworld gangs come together and reek their vengence by waging a war on the agents responsible. Unable to deal with the newly merged and extremely viscious and powerful gang, an international task force known as 'Angel' (comprised of two male and two female members) is called in to essentially divide and conquer.

'Angel' represented Taiwan's attempt at emulating the high octain modern style action that was pouring out of Hong Kong at the time and for the most part, it succeeded. It's not a perfect entry with some stutteringly slow spots and unwelcome comedy relief (supplied by Elaine Liu who does a pretty, but annoyingly over the top 'Farrah Fawcet' impression) that one or both directors deemed necessary to offset the dramatic tension. But the film comes alive when it needs to with some terrific action setpieces, both in the gory guns ablazing department and in some terrific hand to hand combat.

'Angel' made stars out of it's opposing lethal ladies, Moon Lee and Yukari Oshima. After this film, they were paired together nearly a dozen more times. Moon Lee was a dancer who's flexibilty would be seen as a natural for action parts. Initially cast in non action roles in such films as. 'Zu Warriors From the Magic Mountain' and 'Mr. Vampire', she graduated to full blown battling babe status in 'Angel'. Originally appearing as a demure member of the elite team (which played into her adorably cute looks), she gets to cut loose in the 2nd half and for a first time fighting role, displays a shockingly high level of martial artistry that would define everything she has done onscreen since. The film however is stolen by the absolutely incredible Yukari Oshima as Madam Yeung, the sadistic Yakuza/Ninja like leader of the underworld. A self confessed tomboy and real life 3rd degree black belt in Goju Ryu Karate, Oshima left her native Japan to pursue a career in hard hitting Hong Kong cinema. She made quite an impression in her debut as a samurai in Sammo Hung's star studded, 'Millionaire's Express' and quickly found herself flooded with acting offers, appearing in all types of action, portraying both good and bad gals. This was one of her earliest roles and arguably the most memorable of her career. As Madam Yeung, she portays the ultimate psychotic bad gal. A frightening and intimidating presence, the little villianess supervises whippings (while laughing maniacally and even licking the blood off one of her captives), cuts four fingers off a rival, toutures one of the male members of Angel by piercing his flesh with a long needle (Yeeeowch!), regularly takes on (and defeats) several oponents at once with her lethal karate skills and when confronted at gunpoint, distracts her oponent by flashing a breast (likely a body double) before laying a smackdown; all done in a wild, leering, even fetishistic fashion. It is a performance for the ages and one that reportedly scared the daylights out of many a young Asian male. The finale pits our two lethal ladies against one another and to this day, it is the single best female mono-a-mon screen battle. The two ladies absolutely knock the stuffing out of each other (no 'catfight' is this!) and is one of the more rewound battles in my old video collection.

As for the two male members of Angel, Alex Fong was an up and commer who has since had a long career in film, usually in dramas and gangster yarns. Hideki Saijo (who's character bears the brunt of Yukari's sadism) was known primarily as a singer. His major hit; a serious minded remake of The village People's 'Y.M.C.A.'(!) Yeah... Also featured in the cast are old school kung fu film alumni David Chiang (in the 'Charlie' role) and ultimate Tae Kwan Do kicker, Hwang Jang Lee as gang memeber who has a change of heart and ultimately helps our heroic team.

Though there have been even better 'Girls With Guns' outings, 'Angel' serves as a good introduction both to the genre as well as to the considerable talents of Moon and Yukari.

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