AKA: Angel 2, Fighting Madam 2
Director: Stanley Tong
Writer: Teresa Woo San
Cast: Alex Fong, Moon Lee Choi Fong, Elaine Lui Siu Ling, Gary Siu Yuk Lung, Sin Ho Ying, Jackson Ng Yuk Su, Yuen Tak
Running Time: 90 min.
By Paul Bramhall
The ‘Girls with Guns’ genre is generally considered to have been kicked off by the 1985 Corey Yuen movie Yes, Madam!, which introduced us to the femme fatale coupling of Michelle Yeoh and Cynthia Rothrock. The rest of the 80s were spent introducing us to a bevy of dangerous ladies – in 1986 we were given the ferocious pairing of Moon Lee and Yukari Oshima in Iron Angels, and in 1987 we were given yet another deadly duo with Cynthia Khan and Michiko Nishiwaki in In the Line of Duty 3.
Despite the talent of these ladies, the genre arguably always remained a tier below the output from their male counterparts. As time went on the action seemed to increasingly move to countries which had cheaper production costs, such as the Philippines and Malaysia, and by the mid-90s the ‘Girls with Guns’ genre had all but disappeared. For the few glorious years that these movies were getting produced though, the sheer number that got cranked out pretty much guaranteed at least a few minor classics. Often filled with copious machine gun fire and cheap and cheerful pyrotechnics, interspersed with moments of intense fight action, it’s easy to see why these kick ass gals gained a sizable following.
The original Iron Angels delivered a strong cast, apart from the aforementioned Moon Lee and Yukari Oshima, they were ably backed up by Alex Fong, Elaine Lui, and Shaw Brothers legend David Chiang, who essentially filled the role of Charlie in a Hong Kong version of Charlie’s Angels. Throw in Japanese star Saijo Hideki and Korean boot master Hwang Jang-lee, and it would be difficult not to have a good time. The movie is considered a classic of the ‘Girls with Guns’ genre, and spawned two sequels, the second of which has frustratingly yet to be released on DVD in any English speaking country.
It’s a shame, as while Iron Angels 2 is hardly a contender for an Oscar, it is a worthy addition to the genre. The three principal members of the original return in the form of Moon Lee, Elaine Lui, and Alex Fong, who essentially make up the team of angels. Why one of the angels has to be played by a guy is anyone’s guess, but in the pantheon of questions that could be raised out of Hong Kong’s movie output from the 80’s, this is probably one of the lesser ones.
The story concerns the angels being distracted from their holiday in Kuala Lumpur, when the host with whom they’re staying turns out to be an insane revolutionary. This is revealed in a wonderful speech when he explains that he wants to make “an Asia for the Asians”, and we get to see him kick back in the evening with a whiskey on the rocks, while watching videos of Hitler parading through the streets of Germany. Of course in an effort to flesh out the plot a little bit more, Elaine Lui becomes romantically involved with him, unaware of his extreme ideals, and if that wasn’t enough to push the run-time to a suitable length, the rest is padded out by travelogue like shots of Kuala Lumpur city.
While Iron Angels was hardly a big budget affair, it did get by on the merits of having a pair of strong adversaries in the form of Yukari Oshima and Hwang Jang-lee. Oshima seemed to relish her role of the vicious gang boss, and the whole movie stayed true to its genre origins by having Moon Lee and Elaine Lui ultimately have to rescue the captured Fong from her lair.
The sequel loses points somewhat in the fact that if anything, the shift in focus seems to be away from the ladies, and instead Fong is now the image of the macho 80’s Hong Kong action hero, seemingly able to beat up anyone who crosses his path. After playing the deadly leading lady in the Shaw Brothers classic Come Drink With Me, Cheng Pei Pei suffered a similar fate in its sequel Golden Swallow, when she played second fiddle to Jimmy Wang Yu. The only problem here is Alex Fong is no Jimmy Wang Yu, and director Stanley Tong is no Chang Cheh.
While I’m sure a more academically minded critic would be happy to draw comparisons between the notions of feminism between the original Iron Angels and its sequel, let’s face it, at the end of the day we’re all here for the action. Moon Lee would go on to make several movies together with Yukari Oshima, so the real question is how does she fare here with no promise of a final throw down with the Japanese beauty. Thankfully the answer isn’t a disappointing one, in large part due to the showdown that she has with the movies action director Yuen Tak.
Tak is one of the more unsung heroes of Hong Kong action cinema. Originally cast as a kind of Jackie Chan clone in the 1980 Shaw Brothers movie The Master opposite Chen Kuan Tai, he went onto to have a successful career as an action director, working on such movies as Dragon from Russia, while still occasionally making onscreen appearances, most notably returning as the villain in the 1997 version of Hero. Here Tak serves as action director and plays the head henchman, who happens to face off against Lee in a munitions hut in the finale. While their fight is frustratingly brief, what’s there is gold, as the two exchange a lightening fast flurry of feet and fists.
The fight is so good that it makes you realize that she’s just spent the majority of the movie wasted in what for the most part is a non-action role, while it’s Fong who gets given the majority of the movies action beats. While Fong is a passable screen fighter, the fight between Lee and Tak makes his scenes look like rehearsals. This is made even more glaringly obvious when straight after the showdown he’s given the final confrontation of the movie, which while not particularly bad, simply doesn’t stand up compared to the few seconds of excellence we’ve just bore witness to.
There’s also a whole lot of obligatory but satisfying machine gun fire and explosions in the finale, but despite it all, Iron Angels 2 remains a notch under the original. Later that same year Lee would be seriously burnt when she was caught in an explosion, which detonated early while escaping from a building on the set of the movie Devil Hunters, but like the strong female characters she portrayed on screen, she didn’t stay down for long. Hopefully movies like both Devil Hunters and Iron Angels 2 will some day make it onto DVD, and everyone can enjoy watching the ladies of Hong Kong cinema kick just as much ass as the men.
Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 7/10