Beautiful Blood on Your Lip
Successors to GWG


“Intruder” (1997)

In a bold characterization that diverges from typical leading roles, Wu Chien-lien plays “Yan”, a relentless killer from the Mainland whose single shred of remaining compassion is enough to thwart her larger purpose but is insufficient to save her victims.  Most of the action takes place in isolated, poorly illuminated residences that turn into death traps for their marginal, reclusive occupants.  “Yan” preys on the vulnerable for their identity papers, ruthlessly ingratiating herself in order to confirm the absence of relatives who might interfere.

After killing a sex worker in Shenzhen, “Yan” assumes her identity to enter Hong Kong.  There she targets “Chen Chi-min” (Lai Yiu-Cheung), a cab driver who lives alone.  After running him down with a car in order to break his legs and cripple him, “Yan” mounts a home invasion and physically immobilizes “Chen” with cling film and packing tape – turning him into a human cocoon whose ghastly purpose is ultimately to use his finger prints for official documents.  “Yan” kills “Chen’s” dog and mother, then dismembers the bodies, stuffs them in garbage bags and burns them.  She then contacts her husband – another murderer – so that he, a double amputee, can use “Chen’s” body parts to obtain a valid identity card.  The execution of this ghoulish act is both creative and unsparing.
Wu delivers a powerful performance of near-sociopathic indifference to the fate of others, snapping her gum as she calmly contrives a house of horror.  As in “Beyond Hypothermia,” her character intrudes on personal space with disturbing suddenness – an enigma whose sardonic contemplation of her victims conceals both implacable purpose and a desperate bid to stay one step ahead of what she has committed.  Wu’s subtle performance and Tsang Kan-Cheung’s writing and direction craft a low-key monster in “Yan” who occupies a frighteningly empty moral space.  The narrative’s dismal mood is strengthened by extensive filming at night and pervasive rainfall.
As an unregenerate criminal, “Yan” is clearly a subversive figure.  Beyond the implications of “Yan’s” role, “Intruder” also destabilizes notions of male power, the security of home and family, and predictability of social behavior.  Perhaps most disturbing of all, “Yan” survives to renew her quest for official documentation that will allow her to disappear into the host community.  The lack of a recuperative resolution marks “Intruder” as a troubling narrative in which even the sympathy attached to justifiable vengeance is withheld from the viewer.

“Enter the Eagles” (1998)

From “Yes, Madam” (1985) to “So Close” (2002), the female protagonists of Corey Yuen’s GWG action films have transformed rivalry to unexpected common cause in the face of shared adversity.  “Enter the Eagles” adds elements of the women’s friendship film to an otherwise attractive but formulaic actioner.  Tension between the brittle “Mandy” (Shannon Lee) and Anita Yuen’s abrasive “Lucy” establishes the context in which caring gestures and eventual partnership emerge as a natural resolution.

As was the case with Joyce Godenzi’s casting in a previous Corey Yuen title “She Shoots Straight” (1990), Eurasians (Shannon Lee and Michael Wong) are foregrounded in “Enter the Eagles.”  Set in the Czech Republic, the film offers a cheerful mélange of cultures and languages.  “Marty” (Michael Wong) organizes a jewel heist in the face of competition – and comic relief – from “Tommy” (Jordan Chan) and his partner “Lucy,” as well as threats by rival gang leader “Karloff” (Benny “The Jet” Urquidez).
Urquidez and his real-life student Shannon Lee shine in the martial arts finale, which is performed with bone-jarring intensity and real conviction.  “Enter the Eagles” may be one of the final HK contemporary action films to foreground the performance skill of martial artists without elaborate fight special effects.  This yields performances reminiscent of the best traditions of martial arts films.  Urquidez is older but dangerously lithe and aggressive, while Lee obliges with an occasional glimpse of the fire and arrogance of her father.
When “Lucy” is taken hostage by “Marty’s” gang as insurance for return of a stolen gem, “Mandy” emerges as her unlikely protector.  This is grounded on “Lucy’s” inability to walk away from “woman abuse” of “Mandy” at the hands of one of “Karloff’s” European henchmen.  The posturing and gunplay evolve into a full-fledged assault on a Prague police station.  After her partner “Tommy” is killed while acting as a human shield, the stage is set for “Lucy” to join forces with “Mandy” in a classic guns-and-fists finale that takes the battle to “Karloff” and his gang.
The lighter-than-air premise of much of the narrative – another Corey Yuen trademark – finds metaphoric expression in absurd scenes during a helicopter rescue and climactic combat aboard a dirigible in flight.  However, the film hits all the required genre notes in satisfactory fashion, while all weaknesses are excused by excellent, back-to-basics fight choreography and crisp action direction.

“Nude Fear” (1998)

“Nude Fear,” directed by Mak Siu Fai, bears narrative resemblance to Kathryn Bigelow’s police drama “Blue Steel.”  Both films position competent female law enforcement officers at their central narrative axis.  Both films make them the focus of their colleagues’ resentment and desire, and both achieve dramatic tension via the stalking and assault of vicious serial killers.  Feminist analysis of Bigelow’s film has made ambivalent note of the fetishistic prominence of weapon symbolism, the collateral sexual liaison and sexual assault of the central character, prominent role-defining references to personal relationship status, and “Final Girl” connotations associated with Jamie Lee Curtis’ casting.   Although Kathy Chow has certainly appeared in roles akin to Clover’s prototypic Final Girl (e.g., “Insanity,” 1993), there are key differences in how her character “Joyce” is portrayed that mark “Nude Fear” as a work that rises above the limiting, patriarchal conventions of typical police dramas.

The murder of “Joyce’s” mother is a backstory, but it ties the killer – rather than “Joyce” – to the patriarchal order.  “Joyce” is also a college-educated professional who clearly wields considerable authority.  Furthermore, two of her male superiors are involved in serious sexual crimes against women – and it is her investigation that uncovers them.  Placement of these sexual criminals at the heart of the police power structure undermines patriarchal authority, as does “Joyce’s” numerous assertive responses to the gratuitous insults to which she is exposed.  Another critical difference concerns the nature of the central character’s sexual liaison.  Whereas “Blue Steel” positioned Curtis’ police officer as a desirable figure to be courted, seduced or assaulted, Chow’s character in “Nude Fear” actively selects her partner.  That her choice is deeply flawed only enriches her character.  It is nevertheless her choice to make.  The final violent denouement of “Nude Fear” does not recuperate familiar conventions of retaliation.  Its low-speed, chaotic resolution is all-too human.  When “Joyce” at last takes a shot – the pistol’s not cocked!
The film opens with a defining event in “Joyce’s” life, the discovery of her mother’s body during her early childhood.  After fast-forwarding 20 years, “Joyce” is now a police homicide investigator.  While investigating a crime scene almost identical to the murder of her own mother, “Joyce” slowly becomes aware that she is, in fact, the hunted as well as the hunter in a deadly game of deceit and cunning.  The film leads the viewer astray as the actual killer (played by Tse Kwan-Ho) gives up an accomplice (Sam Lee) and a female slave abducted as a child.  As “Joyce” attempts to rehabilitate her and track down her parents she recognizes too late that the young woman has been brainwashed and remains under the control of the killer.  The unseen killer cuts down “Joyce’s” police team, and eventually captures her.  She awakes from being drugged, bound to a chair in the very apartment where her mother was murdered.
Tse Kwan-Ho’s performance as the killer is especially chilling. He manages to convey both warmth and menace within a single scene.  His soliloquy on the evils of choice and his corresponding attempt to engineer robotic obedience in his female abductees is an intelligent exposition of utterly sadistic disregard for anyone’s needs but his own.  As he begins to kill his female captives while forcing “Joyce” to watch, she screams defiant invective (“I want to whip your corpse”), and proceeds to create the necessary opportunity.  The finale is Chow at her sweaty, wild-eyed best – a desperately grim avenger far removed from the cool business-suited professional who had been the object of so many fantasies.