Fighting Madam (Hong Kong, 1987)
For the past year or so, I have made it my personal goal to track down every possible Hong Kong “Girls With Guns” film that I can. I have developed a healthy (or unhealthy, depending on your point of view) obsession with this Hong Kong genre staple. The title for this genre “Girls With Guns” is a total misnomer in actuality. It is about the closest thing that I can come up with to describe these highly intense action titles, which feature all-female leads, but guns are hardly the only tools at their disposal. Usually featuring leading ladies such as Yukari Oshima, Moon Lee or Cynthia Khan, these movies have a very special atmosphere to them that is beyond the generic Hong Kong action titles that flood the marketplace. Featuring wild stunts, insanely fast/acrobatic fight choreography, as well as brutally violent bloodshed, these are movies that pull few punches. In the case of Fighting Madam, this proves to be both an ideal piece of evidence to demonstrate why these movies were so great, but it also presents a fair warning for the negatives that litter the genre. Although the film isn’t always upbeat, Fighting Madam is the sort of party movie that can’t be shut off once it has started.
Fighting Madam focuses on a Japanese-led international narcotics organization that poses as a legitimate enterprise, named the Dai Nippon Corporation. They are, however, anything but a run-of-the-mill board of directors. These purveyors of all things evil are utterly ruthless and rarely shy away from violent confrontation. Sitting as the leader of the board is Yeung (Yukari Oshima), who is the main reason for all of the relentless bloodshed spread by this corporation. Elsewhere, we meet Moon (Moon lee) who is a secret agent that moonlights as a secretary. When her boss John Keung (David Chiang) calls her back into action, she is paired with a team collectively known as “The Angels”. Paired with her good friend Elaine (Elaine Liu), the older and wiser Saijo (Hideki Saijô), and the new young American recruit Alex (Alex Fong), together this team will attempt to defeat Yeung and her cronies who are looking to take over the drug trade throughout all of China.
The biggest hurdle that viewers will have to contend with in Fighting Madam is the odd pacing and episodic nature of the film. Although the final third of Fighting Madam is perhaps one of the most insane that I have seen within the “Girls with Guns” genre, the preceding hour is filled with a good number of problems that make the overall project seem a bit clunky. For starters, the pacing is a definite issue. Filled to the brim with what is supposed to be espionage intrigue, Fighting Madam attempts to compensate for its silliness by crafting a very James Bond-esque plot, but unfortunately fails to actually add any of the previously mentioned intrigue. What the audience is left with is a movie that instead runs in circles, with The Angels going back and forth with the Dai Nippon corporation, and we never really care much for either group. Each full-circle seems to begin and end with the Angels discussing their plan on how they will defeat Yukari Oshima’s evil corporation. Following the planning stage, we then watch as our heroes enact the previously mentioned plan in full detail. The actual missions that The Angels go upon are hit-or-miss in terms of action appeal, but more often than not they are at least partially entertaining. Unfortunately, the bland repetitiveness of the story gives the audience very little to work with or care about.
The cast features a few very big names that I immediately recognized, as well as a few new faces (for me at least). The returning stars are obviously Moon Lee and Yukari Oshima. Already legends within this genre, they both deliver ace performances. Yukari Oshima, who is often seen in roles that are actually little more than glorified cameos, actually puts in a full feature length performance this time around. Her role, although another villain added to her library of work, is much more animated and features more dialogue than Oshima is normally given. This gives the actress more room to create a character, and with this added room, she goes incredibly over-the-top. She fills the screen with her grandiose villainy, and I would count this amongst one of the very best roles that I have ever seen her in. Moon Lee is our hero yet again, and she gives a certifiably Moon Lee performance. Incredibly cute and fun, this is her doing what she does best. Also, mixed in with these nubile young actresses, we have a slightly older face that Shaw Bros. fans will enjoy seeing. David Chiang pops up as the “Charlie” of this Charlie’s Angels knockoff, and he is everything that you expect from the man. In a role that requires very little from the aging actor, we get to see him putting in a fun and charismatic performance that doesn’t require the actor to do much more than bring some class and credibility to the movie. Still, it’s fun to see David Chiang grace the screen with his naturally masculine presence.
As with any movie of this sort, one aspect that matters more than any other is the action. Fighting Madam unfortunately consolidates the majority of its action in the final quarter of the movie, but this portion of the movie is what really finds its way into the hearts of its fanbase. Although there are numerous action stunts pulled off during the course of the movie, it is the massive leap made by Elaine Lui and Hideki Saijô that really seems to be the pinnacle of the death-defying stunt-fu found within the movie. Although we are denied the chance to see the cast actually land in a tree/on the ground within one single shot, the stunt still comes across as impressive. The fight scenes are nothing short of spectacular, as one would expect. However, it is the final fight sequence that has really gained notoriety within recent years. Listed on YouTube as “the most brutal girl-on-girl fight ever,” this epic battle between Yukari Oshima and Moon Lee is about as dirty and violent as these girls ever were. Although relatively short by Kung Fu film standards, the brutality of the violence found in this scene more than makes up for the seemingly short length.
Brutally violent from start to finish, Fighting Madam is a movie that has no shortage of interesting qualities that might draw in viewers. Unfortunately, it has some serious detriments when it comes to its pacing, which may prevent some viewers from getting as heavily into the movie as I did. Still, despite the lackluster first half of the movie, I must say that I count it as a favorite. Moon Lee and Yukari Oshima may have made better movies together, but there is nothing wrong with adding this title to your collection.