The Black Panther Warriors

Frenzied and incoherent like a mass escape from an insane asylum, this film teeters on the edge of anarchy before it finally slips over into the abyss of total chaos below. Rarely has a film been subject to more scorn than this 1993 effort from director Clarence Ford – and most of it deservedly so. Still there is a mild fascination in watching such an undisciplined film unfold like a multi-car turnpike pile up. That among its victims lie some of Hong Kong’s most appealing actors – Brigitte Lin, Simon Yam, Carrie Ng and Tony Leung Ka-fai - makes the disaster all the more perversely irresistible. Throw on top of this the deliriously constant changing fashion flurry and the “blink and you will miss a dozen bad guys get killed” action and you have a frothy cream pie that can be tasty at times but often ends up splattered on your face like an embarrassing hickey.
Changing moods as often as the characters do outfits, this film seemed to be trying to capitalize on the Savior of the Soul/Heroic Trio type of film by mixing comedy, modern day wuxia, romance and goblets of visual style into one unruly package. On nearly every count it fails, but there are those occasional glorious moments of exhilaration and beauty when Ford gets it just right – little bursts of brilliance in the dark that are reminders of why you love Hong Kong film. The comedy in particular is labored and painful – fast moving Marx Brother antics minus the humor and inspiration. Tony Leung and Dicky Cheung are most guilty of this – neither ever missing an opportunity to mug before the camera like a B vaudeville show from the depths of hell.
Some of the action is fairly inspired though as the characters whirl through the air like hip dervishes on speed, cutting down hordes of enemies in all sorts of imaginative ways from decapitation with sharp edged playing cards to exploding basketballs. Most of this is done in a breathlessly quick editing style that makes it nearly impossible to follow, but still maintains style to kill for and a sense of the cool. Style is primarily what this film is all about. Ford almost always brings his decadent visual ostentation to his efforts from Naked Killer to Her Name is Cat and this clearly takes preference over plot or character development. He loves creating a world full of startling colors, oversized floppy hats and subversive subtext in which women are beautiful but deadly and men often their lapdogs.
Whatever the faults in Ford’s narrative ability, no Hong Kong director can make their female stars look as luscious and flamboyant as he does – they sizzle as much as act in his films like a Molotov cocktail waiting for a match. Here he brings back Carrie Ng, his lethal lesbian killer from Naked Killer, in all her lipsticked splendor – purring one moment and garroting someone the next. Most interesting is the appearance of Brigitte Lin slumming in a Ford film – it would have been fascinating to see her used in a more exploitive way – bringing out her smoldering sexuality  - but Ford unfortunately plays it safe here with this icon and has her go totally straight faced. Considering that she played outrageous and comical roles in Boys are Easy and Eagle Shooting Heroes in the same year, it seems that Ford missed an opportunity. Needless to say, Brigitte still looks fabulously glamorous in the various concocted fashions she wears and makes head wear a seemingly necessary accessory  - and her character is the most skilled killer of all - but bringing a degree of fetishistic sexuality to her character would have been ever so intriguing . The two other female characters, Jennifer Chan (as the other female member of the group) and Elsie Chan (the fingerprinted victim) both look lovely as well.
The plot is simply there to fit in the other elements that are closer to Ford’s heart, but it revolves around Alan Tang being hired by Melvin Wong (with Yuen Wah staying in the background) to steal a box from a police station. To do the job he recruits Brigitte, Tony, Simon, Carrie, Jennifer and Dicky for their particular skills – Brigitte a wuxia warrior, Tony an expert marksman, Simon for his lethal card skills, Carrie for her seductive smile and deadly flying chains, Jennifer for her fighting and cleaning ability and Dicky for his computer knowledge. There are the expected twists and betrayals but it is often overwhelmed by puerile humor such as Dicky turning into an idiot if his pacifier comes out of his mouth or Tony somersaulting out of a room in ecstasy whenever he hears Mandarin (ok so I sort of understood when Brigitte spoke it!).  One should also be warned that the subtitles on the dvd are some of the worse I have come across – nearly every line is mangled like a garbage sink disposal doing the translation. This clearly could have hurt one’s appreciation for the comedy – but I doubt it! This is a hit and mainly miss affair that is probably only for die hard HK film fans with a taste for bad schlock and chic and supercilious French fashion shows.

My rating for this film: 6.0

To see a few more pictures from the film click here.