So it's 1990, the gaudy fashions, the huge shoulder pads and big hair were still around and in Hong Kong cinema it's business as usual. Well, not quite, with up and coming directors like John Woo paving the way with a new type of genre the traditional martial arts/sword play movies were being replaced by guns, lots and lots of guns, at a time when the Hollywood hero would shoot once maybe twice, HK heroes would spray the screen with bullets. It was new and exciting, and totally at odds with real life, since being (at the time) under British rule guns were outlawed, as they are in the UK, but since when did real life have any impact on the martial arts?
Like many of his peers director Corey Yuen (whom some might remember from the ridiculous The Transporter (2002) or working with Jet Li) cut his teeth with swordplay films, Huang jia nu jiang or She Shoots Straights as it's known here was his second foray into gun play. His first Jing tian shi er xiao shi or Twelve Hours of Fear is sometimes promoted as Hard Boiled 2 but don't be fooled this is not Woo being released in 1990, two years before its supposed prequel. In She Shoots Straight Yuen directs a predominately female cast in what is basically a police/revenge film; it contains the usual HK mix of breathtaking stunts, huge gun play, melodrama and comedic moments, flitting between these contrasting scenes with an ease and confidence that many western films fail to match.
Huang Tsung-Pao (Tony Leung Ka Fai) is the only son in a family of four sisters and their mother. Tsung marries Mina Kao (the lovely Joyce Godenzi) much to the annoyance of his sisters; the whole family unit are in the same police squad, and this is the root of problem. The sisters, particularly the eldest Ling (Carina Lau) are resentful of Mina's success and the fact that she is close to out ranking them. When all are forced on duty the day after the wedding by brash superintendent Liu (Lau Chi-Wing) the resultant shootout has the girls save the day, but all the praise goes to Mina as she lead the squad; this only reinforces the resentment. After a ruthless gang of Vietnamese shoot their way out of a gun buying deal, the police learn of their plans to rob a nightclub. Liu, who has designs on Mina, puts her in charge of a squad comprising of her sisters to apprehend them. When the arrest goes badly wrong and one of the Vietnamese is killed because Ling exposed her cover too soon, Liu orders that Mina sign a paper recommending Ling's suspension further deepening the rift. At the death of his brother, Vietnamese gangster Yuen Hua (Yuen Wah) sets a trap for Mina, but Ling intercepts the call; realising this both Mina and Tsung rush after her suspecting a trap. When it is sprung Tsung is killed; this finally results in a truce between Mina and Ling as they try to put on a brave face for their mother's birthday. The resulting attempt on Minas life sees her admitted to hospital, she needs an operation to save her life, but any anaesthetic might damager her unborn child; as a promise to Tsung she goes through with the operation without anaesthetic! After she recovers Liu takes over the case removing the family, but this does not sit well. When Inspector Wong (Sammo Hung Kam-Bo) sets up a plan to capture them himself Mina and Ling join forces to go it alone; the final climatic fight between Mina and Yuen Ying (former body builder Agnes Aurelio), sister of the Vietnamese is nothing short of spectacular!
There is an awful lot packed into the eighty eight minute run time and Yuen races through the film at breakneck speed. However there are some genuine moments of sadness in amongst the general euphoria of gung ho action. Not all work and at times it is all too over the top, but when it comes together it really works. For example after the death of Tsung, Mina and Ling meet up with the family who have no idea about what has happened as they are celebrating mother's birthday. The skill of Godenzi and Lau as they struggle with their emotions so as not to let on to what has happened is genuinely heart breaking; the offering of the gifts, the saving of meat that Tsung likes the best, it all adds up to a powerful emotional state. When Mina excuses herself to the bathroom where a TV is breaking the news, her anguish is plane to see, and when mother walks in and they both crack up there is a real release of tension. And yet a similar moment towards the end of the film when mother squares up to Liu only to be cut down by Ying seems over done as the family crowds around her; too much of a good thing?
Yuen also has an eye for action, there are shoot outs galore, perhaps not as operatic as Woo but no less exciting. The fight on the ship between Ling armed with two machetes against hordes of villains in a corridor is a tight (literally) and intense battle, rarely matched even by the likes of 'the men'. As alluded to, too the climatic fight between Mina and Ying is outrageous, they swap punch for punch, and whilst there is a little wire work most of the stunts are performed by the actresses themselves and some look like actual contact; the final kick must be! It is a bitter battle and the girls really go at it, it is a joy to watch.
In the end the film contains a lot of entertainment, zipping between scenes of ultra violence to melodrama and with a little comedy thrown in, this is a film to be enjoyed over and over again; not quite up to epic standards but more fun than similar films out of the west, enjoy.
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