Director: Raymond Leung, Teresa Woo
Starring: Moon Lee, Hideki Saijo, Alex Fong, Elaine Lui, Yukari Oshima
Nowadays at the movies, it isn’t difficult to find strong female characters and even female action stars. Actresses in American action films like Angelina Jolie, Milla Jovovich, and Scarlett Johansson are most prevalent than ever and Western audiences are eating their work up. What many uninitiated do not know is that Chinese cinema has frequently made use of female heroes in their action films for years, and in many ways, they surpass many of their male counterparts in various ways. With the trend turning towards modern-era action films and away from costumed dramas in Hong Kong, the ‘Girls With Guns’ sub-genre was born. Featuring tough ladies battling it out in urban environs, the movies were inexpensive to create and you could almost set your watch by the beats of the films’ acts. With that I have reviewed Iron Angels, one of the must-see genre defining films of the era.
When a crop of poppy fields are destroyed, an Asian criminal organization suffers severe losses. In retaliation, they institute revenge killings on Interpol officers throughout Asia. With their agents being taken captive, or worse, the HK police contract the services of a group of mercenaries known as Angels, Saijo (Hideki Saijo), Moon, (Moon Lee), John (David Chiang), and Elaine (Elaine Lui); a team of men and women with special skills and the ability to operate outside the procedures of the law. While the criminal organization undergoes a changeover in leadership, the ferocious Madam Yeung (Yukari Oshima) wages war on the Angels who have been disrupting their activities; all the while hatching her own plan to recoup from the losses of the drugs.
With a plot like that, Shakespeare this isn’t. What is does offer, however, is a blistering action film filled with fights, gunplay, and ending with probably one of the most brutal final fights in HK history. Saijo performs well, and even has solid fight, albeit a short one, with the incomparable Hwang Jang Lee, but the film is definitely all about the ladies. Moon and Elaine both have solid action scenes that I’m sure resulted in many aches and pains, and Yukari is downright devilish in her portrayal as the evil Yeung. There are some cheesy parts sure, mostly when they try to inject some hammy romance into the film, but the fact that the film doesn’t really take itself seriously is a hallmark of the time. It even has one of the more memorable ‘freeze frame’ parting shots so common in HK cinema.
Overall production is good, there are multiple locations and there is huge amount of destruction to the environment. Stunt work is fantastic as well, with falls, crashes, and some incredibly painful looking hits being the norm. Direction is minimal it seems though, since actors’ don’t necessarily emote, and hammy performances abound. Co-directors, Raymond Leung and Teresa Woo haven’t really worked outside this genre, but it is evident they are aware of their strengths. There are some ninja-like devices that Elaine uses in the film that demonstrate some of the ingenuity from this era of films, absolutely inspired by gadgets in perhaps the pantheon of Bond inspiration. Music is generally memorable, with synthesized beats and overbearing audio cues used continuously. It is a bit ‘hit you over the head’ with its hand-holding but it adds to the experience.
As probably the defining film of the ‘girls with guns’ sub-genre, Iron Angels features tons of action, beautiful ladies, and a campy HK flare that I adore and miss from their current cinema. While the film is easy on plot and acting, it is nonetheless a hugely entertaining and nostalgic movie. One of the movies that got me interested in martial arts films at the beginning of my movie watching days, Iron Angels holds a special place in this filmgoer’s heart for personal reasons, but the uninitiated should find a lot to love about this film and understand why it is placed on such a pedestal.
You may enjoy this film if you liked: Blond Fury, Yes, Madam, Heroic Fight