Iron Angels (1987) — July 20, 2020
Teresa Woo wrote, produced, and directed this foundational Girls with Guns movie, a riff on Charlie’s Angels with Shaw Brothers veteran David Chiang as the guy in charge of a team of super mercenaries. He doesn’t do any fighting, but he does get to fly the helicopter. At one point he takes off his jacket like he’s about to fight, but then thinks better of it. The Angels are two women (a girl next door type played by Moon Lee and a more flamboyant woman who sings in a nightclub and wears deadly accessories played by Elaine Lui) and one guy, a Japanese martial artist played by pop singer Saijo Hideki (he had a hit with the Japanese version of “YMCA”).
The team is hired by the Hong Kong police (funded entirely by the American DEA) to deal with an international criminal organization that has been killing cops in retaliation for the cops’ burning the poppy fields of the Golden Triangle. The bad guys are led by Ōshima Yukari, a Japanese actress who, after her career in Hong Kong dried up, went on to success in the Philippines under the name “Cynthia Luster”.
Like a lot of low-budget action films, there’s way too much plot and not enough of the connective tissue that makes stories and characters work, but the fight scenes and stunts are really good, creative, dangerous, and often genuinely insane. They were choreographed by Tony Leung Siu-hung, The Other Other Tony Leung. An assault on a mansion anticipates the finale of A Better Tomorrow II by two months, albeit on a much smaller budget and with significantly less talent and dramatic weight. And the final fight between Moon Lee and Ōshima Yukari is worth all the abrupt scene transitions and nonsensical plotting that leads up to it.
Iron Angels II (1988) — January 20, 2021
The Angels go on vacation in Kuala Lumpur (“do they have koala bears there?” asks Moon or Elaine, I couldn’t tell which). There they meet up with the guy-Angel’s old college buddies, one of whom is a CIA agent who is spying on the other one, because he is attempting to spark a socialist revolution with a few dozen guys and a whole lot of guns in the jungle.
Admirably short on anything in the way of backstory or characterization, it pretty much just zips along from one action set piece to another. (That is, aside from a brief aside where the boys engage in some frat-level transphobia at a local club.)
The fights are, like the first one, quick and brutal, with lots of explosions and great choreography. Moon Lee’s climactic showcase fight isn’t quite as spectacular as her fight in the first one, but it’s pretty good. She looks eerily like a smaller, cuter Sammo Hung.
Teresa Woo directed again, but Stanley Tong is credited as “acting director.” Which is either insane, because Stanley Tong is not a good director of actors at all, or a mistranslation of "action director," which is what Tong is best known for in his work with Jackie Chan. The film’s final third, set entirely in the jungle, is very reminiscent of the middle section of Tong’s Supercop (made five years later). I don’t know, but I’m confident that Teresa Woo is a more interesting filmmaker than Stanley Tong.
Iron Angels III (1989) — March 23, 2021
It probably says something about something that the further along these movies go the more they’re about the Angel men doing stuff than the Angel women.
Moon Lee dominates the first half of this, as a spy infiltrating a gang of terrorists in Thailand, single-handedly beating the hell out of scores of generic bad guys, but then almost disappears for the second. She doesn’t even get to take part in the final fight.
On the other hand, that fight does involves hordes of soldiers who don’t understand the concept of “cover” getting mowed down over and over and a couple of guys flying around in jet packs equipped with built-in machine guns, so it isn’t a total loss.