The Inspector Wears Skirts (1988)
A Girls with Guns riff on the Police Academy series, with Sibelle Hu and Cynthia Rothrock training a group of Female Commandos led by Kara Hui and Sandra Ng. The training sequences are rote, with important lessons learned about teamwork and community. Most of the fun involves the women’s interactions with the Tiger Squad, an all-male team of commando trainees at the same camp, led by Stanley Fung, Alex To, and Billy Lau. The highlight here is an extended sequence in a roller rink, complete with a dance number (To sings a rockabilly number while everyone dances on skates) and a fight (the women beat up the men, also on skates).
The film is bookended by action sequences, in the first, Rothrock and Hu take out a gang of ninja terrorists who are attacking Arab diplomats and/or a film set. The second is a showcase for the whole crew, foiling a gang of thieves with teamwork and fighting, but not until after they walk the runway as jewelry models. The choreography is credited to the Jackie Chan Stunt Team, and the action is up to their highly proficient and dangerous standards. Wellson Chin directs: he was a long time Assistant Director to Sammo Hung. The film is very much in the Chan/Hung school, with Hui, Rothrock, and Hu excelling at the action while Ng gives early hints of her unique comedy genius. This was the third of five movies she’d appear with Stanley Fung in in 1988, out of ten films she made that year. They don’t interact much in this one, instead it’s Hu who gets to delightfully roll her eyes at his advances. At one point, one of the women, I can’t remember which, is reading a book called “Aluminum”.
The Inspector Wears Skirts II (1989)
Hits most of the same beats as the first film, but not as hard. Cynthia Rothrock is gone, and with her the big action set pieces. At least until the final ten minutes of the movie, when the cops actually do some police work, but even that pales in comparison to the all-out brawl finale of the previous movie. Amy Yip joins the cast, and much of the film as a consequence revolves around jokes about her breasts. Melvin Wong shows up too, as a new instructor and Stanley Fung’s rival for Sibelle Hu’s attentions. Sandra Ng and Billy Lau continue to do their respective things, though there’s more Lau here, to the film’s detriment. The most fun sequence in the film involves Ng beating Lau up during a challenge match. The dance sequence isn’t as good, if only because it’s not performed on roller skates. It’s the kind of movie that seems to forget that Kara Hui is starring in it, by which I mean it’s not a very good movie.
Raid on Royal Casino Marine (1990)
This is The Inspector Wears Skirts III, my copy of which came from some bootleg where a Russian guy reads the subtitles over the audio of the film, truly one of the great traditions in film piracy. At this point, the series has all but abandoned the Girls with Guns genre in favor of slapstick comedy and movie parody. For long stretches, it even abandons the Girls, making Stanley Fung the main character for the first half of the movie. He’s now married to Sibelle Hu, which means that she’s now a housewife and cannot train the Banshee Squad (also known as the Super Police Woman Team (or was it Super Woman Police Team?)). So Fung is put in charge of them, along with Billy Lau, so they can prep for a coming attack on a floating casino. They don’t do much prepping, instead Fung and the women torture each other by recreating scenes from popular movies (Drunken Master, Lethal Weapon, A Chinese Ghost Story, etc).
The second half of the film is on the boat, and turns into a lengthy parody of Stephen Chow’s parodies of the God of Gamblers movies, with Sandra Ng in the lead. This is occasionally funny, and the romance between Ng and a security guard/robber played by Hong Kong action movie stalwart Shing Fui-on is weirdly sweet. Eventually this all leads to the film’s only real action sequence, as the women battle the robbers and Hu literally parachutes in to save the day. There are some decent stunts here, in-between Billy Lau’s annoying antics and the many many jokes about Amy Yip’s breasts. But mostly, everyone just looks really bored.
The Inspector Wears Skirts IV (1992)
The series comes to an end with a return to form. A skip ahead in time finds the Banshee Squad (now back to being referred to as “Female Commando”) a shell of its former self. All the previous series stars have dispersed: Sandra Ng has become a single mom helicopter parent; Kara Hui is in an insane asylum, plagued by violent fantasies; Sibelle Hu and Stanley Fung are missing somewhere in the Philippines; Amy Yip is starring in sex movies. New squad leader Moon Lee is truly terrible at her job: she’s cowardly and lacks confidence, and her whole team quits after being shown up by lone wolf Gilt-Edged Commando, played by Cynthia Khan (who similarly took over the Yes, Madam/In the Line of Duty series from Michelle Yeoh and Cynthia Rotherock a few years before this). In order to save the Female Commando program, Lee has to gather the old squad members she can find (Ng and Hui), and convince Khan they can be an effective team and foil a gang of hostage-taking crooks.
Unfortunately, also returning is Billy Lau. But on the plus side, many of the film’s jokes revolve around women beating him up. And this is maybe the funniest film in the series, definitely since the first one. A running gag with Lau’s wife (played by Sheila Chan) trying to chase him by doing Jackie Chan’s stunts from Police Story and failing every time, becoming increasingly encased in bandages and casts, escalates nicely. Hui missing out on the requisite challenge matches against Khan because she gets too carried away with demonstrating her mastery of Lau Kar-leung’s traditional kung fu forms (her yelps and hi-yahs forming the soundtrack of the rest of the fights) is quite clever. And Sandra Ng has some fun gags with her son (a bottomless mom bag full of snacks and beverages, for example).
Again the biggest fight is saved for the finale, and it’s one of the best in the series, with Khan and Lee (now filled with confidence and returned to the badass woman of violence we know her to be) taking on the final bad guy (Choi Jeong-Il). As the series went on, gadgets became increasingly a part of it (much like the Aces Go Places series), culminating in Khan’s various tools here, including a pair of rocket boots that pay off in one gag but otherwise feel like cheating. But there’s no gadgetry in the final fight. It’s quick and brutal, physical in a way that Girls with Guns movies can be at their best, but which this series, played mostly for slapstick gags, only rarely was.