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Her Fatal Ways (1990) Directed by: Alfred Cheung

One of if not THE finest hour for extraordinary comedienne Carol Cheng, the performance here as a highly patriotic Mainland Chinese security officer Cheng Shih Nan earned her the Best Actress statuette at the Hong Kong Film Awards in 1991. Alongside her partner (played by director Alfred Cheung), she tries to re-capture an escaped prisoner (Michael Chow) while trying to understand the ways of and co-operate with the Hong Kong police. She strikes up a more deep bond with the officer Kuo (Tony Leung Ka-Fai)...

Injecting a professionalism by the use of synch sound, Alfred Cheung's finer points in the comedic interplay between the Mainland Chinese and Hong Kong characters might not get across but a basic understanding of the different mind sets is enough to appreciate Cheung's funny scenarios here. This includes a political singing match up between the respective sides in the conflict. In this case between Leung's father, played by a terrific Lam Kau and the Mainland duo. Cheng's famous rapid fire delivery gets ample time to shine and she embodies the not so always feminine and dedicated Cheng Shih Nan wonderfully well, even nailing a felt emotional core of the film she shares with straight man Leung. Brewing underneath are serious considerations about why the two sides can't come to terms at this point in time. All well handled and injected into an entertaining package by director Alfred Cheung who also lets Chin Ka-Lok action directing talents speak volumes at appropriate times. Also with Lam Chung, Sunny Fang, Emotion Cheung, Deon Lam, Sai Gwa Paau and Walter Tso (Carol Cheng's real life father).

Her Fatal Ways II (1991) Directed by: Alfred Cheung

Mainland Public Security Officer Cheng (Carol Cheng) returns for more Hong Kong adventures and so did the movie going audiences. Alfred Cheung tampers little with the skit formula that includes the presentation of different rationales in the Mainland and Hong Kong camps plus the portrayal of how communism has not embraced modern aspects such as credit cards. While Cheng's act is largely about repeating same mannerisms from the first film, she brings an infectious aura to even the silliest of comedy. Even when doing the age old fish out of water skits, the tone remains fun. What the film doesn't have are the finer points of Her Fatal Ways that did travel and is obviously very local in intent. Adding Michael Chow as a kung-fu assistant and more of Alfred Cheung's ESP is a recipe for fair success throughout the globe though. Deon Lam handles the small but very welcome pieces of action. Also with Waise Lee, Fruit Chan and Lam Kau, reprising his dead on role.

Her Fatal Ways III (1992) Directed by: Alfred Cheung

The box-office dropped and one of the great sparks alongside Carol Cheng in the sequel, Michael Chow didn't return for this third installment of Public Security Officer Cheng's adventures across Asia. Co-star and director Alfred Cheung again doesn't put forth anything new within the formula but does alienate the Western audiences this time around (although the vehicles were never designed purely for us). Much of Cheng's rampant patriotism is similar but Carol Cheng somehow makes it more irritating this time around. On the other hand, the play on words may actually be the most clever the series has ever seen. Again, it's local in intent.

The out of touch Mainlanders does get various scenarios to showcase just that, including the sight of Cheng adapting her wear to the beach and the tennis court. When in those moments with the brilliant Carol, it's comforting to be part of Her Fatal Ways III. The final commentary that Cheng should perhaps not be as intensely bound to her China serves as a nice unification message and makes the film finally worthy. Do consider it to be the third in terms of series quality though. Also with Anthony Wong, Chan Chung-Yung, Dion Lam and Michael Lee (Cageman).

Her Fatal Ways IV (1994) Directed by: Alfred Cheung

The final installment however juuust edges out Her Fatal Ways III in terms of quality as Cheng is taken down a few notches to earth. Now adapting fully to life as a Hongkie (having chosen the English name Senyelgit), she falls in love with her Scottish neighbour (Gregory Charles River, one of the most solid Western actors ever to appear in a Hong Kong film) and is prepared to sacrifice her virginity. It seems however that the gwailo neighbour has a hidden agenda...

Carol Cheng and Alfred Cheung engage in fun banter and attempted English language delivery while then Cheng tries her luck in a variety of jobs, messing up in her always over-examining ways. Carol continues to sell the various sketches that make up the narrative before the plot kicks in and is quite delightful when her girly innocence is revealed in the face of love. Now and again director Alfred Cheung reminds us that Cheng kicks ass too so working with Dion Lam there are a few dependable ventures into this territory. Her Fatal Ways IV is very light though and even though politics are at center, there's expectedly not much impact left to be made after the brilliant first movie. Also starring Sandra Ng.

Her Name Is Cat (1998) Directed by: Clarence Fok

Her Name Is Cat represents some sort of attempt by producer Wong Jing and director Clarence Fok to once again bring to life all the hoo-haa surrounding their cult Cat III effort Naked Killer. Utilizing once again poster art with an alluring leading lady (Almen Wong) in an outfit that never appears in the film and assassin plots with this time only slight lesbian undertones results in something not so difficult to achieve; a better film than Naked Killer.

Her Name is Cat is still terribly hollow and ordinary. Wong Jing can at the best of times inject something akin to fresh coming from him (Colour Of The Truth) but his script here is just a mish-mash of worn clichés. The assassin with a conscience, the cop losing his family because of ruthless dedication to work, themes of redemption, loneliness and then to top it all off, an action finale set in a church. Simply put, Clarence Fok and Wong Jing are not the people who can rise above these clichés and stand out in a crowd. Fok's overbearing style and the overall cinematography quickly becomes bothersome and while effort exist to make a thoroughly serious film, scenes trying to come off as poignant ends up as unintentionally funny instead. Fok can make his style work but it's rare (see Remains Of A Woman). The story holds potential no doubt but you'd better employ better makers and performers to realize that. Almen Wong admittedly is fairly effective as the emotionally cold but lonely assassin but Michael Wong only goes through his motions. Meaning half his dialogue in English and acting being generally wooden. At least he has the best line of the film, which turns out to be incredibly true:

"It'll be like a second class movie for god's sake!"

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Hero (1997) Directed by: Corey Yuen

Corey Yuen's remake of Chang Cheh's Boxer From Shantung has the technical elements firmly in place (high production values and fine cinematography, a Shaw Brother's production after all) but not story and characters for the audience to invest interest in. The plot revolving rival triad gangs in 1920s Shanghai evokes feelings of average filmmaking and director Yuen's attempts at fleshing out characters falls flat most of the time. The often watchable Takeshi Kaneshiro is surprisingly bland but veteran Yuen Biao skillfully weaves in his years of experience to make Master See a more compelling character. Corey also goes off on some wild comedy tangents which makes one wonder if Wong Jing directed when Corey himself was on screen. The action choreography by Corey Yuen and Yuen Tak does the job though, mixing martial arts and gunplay with very little wirework. Corey certainly ain't no John Woo when shooting gunplay but the physical fighting is creative and even very brutally violent at times. Doesn't fully redeem the ultimately uneven Hero. Also starring Yuen Wah, Yuen Tak and Valerie Chow. The Universe Hong Kong dvd is cut for violence while the UK disc is uncut.

Hero (2002, Zhang Yimou)

Celebrated dramatic and visually driven director Zhang Yimou (Raise The Red Lantern, The Road Home) does Wuxia pian, with often remarkable results in the latter camp while the story struggles to punch through. Jet Li as Nameless has killed several assassins (Donnie Yen, Maggie Cheung, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai) that opposes the Qin Emperor (Chen Dao-Ming). Granted an audience with the Emperor, Nameless soon comes under suspicion of being an assassin himself and part of a bigger plan. Flashbacks that vary in content follow as the Emperor tries to piece together the puzzle in his one on one with Nameless. Make no mistake about it, Zhang Yimou transfers his experience in small looking visual splendor to the grandeur of the swordplay movie in excellent fashion. Initially coming off as a bit boastful, he soon displays his eye for capturing majestic sets, costumes, action beats and environment. It's more genuinely mesmerizing when we get actual fights rather than floaty wireshots coming off more like gorgeous, alive paintings however. And within that statement lies the problem for Hero and what prevents it to go beyond its visuals. The evolving story about sacrifice, hatred, doubt is pursued by Zhang with conviction and the fragmented and alternate events sometimes verge on being breathtaking. But there's too many snapshots of the backstory that prevents a full picture to be formed. Or it's hidden by a few too many layers of artistry.

The Hero (1972) Directed by: Wong Hung-Cheung

Known under a plethora of titles such as Rage Of The Master and The Destroyer, it's standard Wang Yu fare with Thai boxers killing off most members and heads of a school who then turns to his aid but he's promised his father never to fight. Guess what happens... It's The Chinese Boxer-template echoed but not with a sense of fun throughout. Rather this goes for melodrama that is rather tiring and only the last two fights show a compelling ferocity as matters turn extremely violent as knives are involved in the bashing. Also with Chiao Chiao (Wang Yu's co-star in One-Armed Swordsman and she also gets a couple of fight scenes) and Lung Fei.

Hero - Beyond The Boundary Of Time (1993) Directed by: Blackie Ko

Time travel adventure with Tony Leung Chiu-Wai as Ching dynasty womanizer Wai Siu-Bo (the character he played on TV and Stephen Chow did as well in the Royal Tramp movies) who's given the mission to travel 300 years ahead in time to find a virgin for the ailing emperor (Ken Tong). He meets a cop played by Dicky Cheung and already there the movie blows...

It's funny though because if you make a list of all craziness within Hero - Beyond The Boundary Of Time (Dicky Cheung with a massive hard on being one item from that list), it looks like it's a gem of "only in Hong Kong" proportions but director Blackie Ko manages to generate the side effect of annoyance instead. The odd bit from Tony Leung Chiu-Wai is amusing and the high flying action towards the end sees us experiencing the only energy the film has. Other than that, it's a long 97 minutes. Also with Ng Suet-Man and Veronica Yip.

Hero Dream (1993) Directed by: Lau Keung-Fu

Another nail in the coffin for Chin Siu-Ho who didn't necessarily make bad choices but despite such fare as Fist Of Legend and The Tai Chi Master, he never really made it into the A-list. Shame and Hero Dream even sees him doing softcore porn!

Also featuring his brother Chin Kar-Lok (who does get worthwhile acting gigs on occasion still), this gangster actioner mostly set in Thailand is clearly a quickie with no real intention, commitment, knowledge or talent to make it work. Instead, director Lau Keung-Fu throws in as many audience pleasing moments as he can, hoping it'll pan out and I guess the vcd sold its share of units as it features a plethora of women on the cover (plus a few transsexuals...don't ask). The Chin's are some of the main reasons why the film mostly sinks as they continuously provide non-existant acting or overacting. The filmmakers also throw in a few sex scenes just because they can while the action is not only laughably bad but so are the Thai extras/stuntmen, leading to a finale that simply reeks. Yet with Hero Dream, you should know what to expect and there is some fair camp value and a bizarre nature to the film that makes it fun. Obviously a sweet deal with Fuji was struck as they are featured prominently in a way not akin to subtle and the inclusion of full frontal nudity of the Thai transsexuals is bound to raise a few eyebrows. Kind of sad and fun at the same time, Hero Dream is there for the taking but don't mistake it for anything but low grade thrash. Also starring Carrie Ng, Sophia Crawford and Michiko Nishiwaki.

Watch out for definitely unlicensed music from Miami Vice that pops up now and again throughout.

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