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Saturday, 13 May 2017

Retro Review: Lethal Lady (1990) #Hongkongcinema

Lethal Lady aka She Shoots Straight (Huang Jia Nu Jiang)
Cast: Joyce Godenzi, Carina Lau, Sammo Hung, Tony Leung Ka-Fai
Genre: Action
Hong Kong Box Office Gross; over $9.9 million

Plot: Straight after her marriage, Hong Kong officer Mina Kao faces a dangerous case of Vietnamese criminal refugees

'Action-Wise, '90s Hong Kong Action Cinema Doesn't Get Any More Impressive As This'

I just finished watching She Shoots Straight/Lethal Lady after I saw it appear on a list of favourite films from a user on film website Letterboxd, and my word, putting aside the cheesy drama, this is one heck of a film. Not to my knowledge, I don't think this film has a well-known reputation and one that is as known as Jackie Chan's Police Story and John's Woo Hard Boiled with Chow Yun-Fat.

Lethal Lady is an obscure title, but even then don't let that fool you, especially if you are into martial arts and action-based films, because with this one when it comes to the action and fight scenes, they are good, well make that so good, as found in any other action film.

Directed by Corey Yuen who appeared as a kung fu instructor in Drunken Master, directed Yes Madam! and the unmemorable Dead Or Alive movie based on the Tecmo Koei video game franchise, Lethal Lady or otherwise known as She Shoots Straight is another gem unearthed from Hong Kong cinema's glory years.

Joyce Godenzi - former Miss Hong Kong of Sino-Australian descent and wife of Sammo Hung, who also acts as the producer of this film - is Mina: a cop and one of four sisters who is married to a colleague played by Tony Leung. Their marriage incurs the wrath and resentment of his four sisters, all cops also, coupled with pressure on Tony's character by his family to father a son. His sisters take a disliking to Godenzi: the first being rising through the ranks of the police force ahead of her husband who is also the brother of the sisters. Secondly, it's out of jealousy for 'stealing' their brother, with the third reason being that Godenzi's character is mixed blood: this is a coincidence given that in real life, she is a Eurasian born to a White Australian father and Hong Kong mother. That internal family conflict is supposed to drive the film forward, as, in addition to all of the family drama, they tackle a gang of Vietnamese gun smugglers.

The plot and story is a bit complex, in contrast to many other action flicks and the melodrama and other non-action related subplot is a bit cheesy and one I didn't care much for. But the action and ambience of Lethal Lady itself are so John Woo-like, particularly in its execution; lots of bullets and gunplay, some insane and over-the-top stunts, but also kung fu fighting with Joyce showing her chops, and she is that good. I was so impressed by her skills and some of the moves she pulled off made my jaw drop in awe. As is Carina Lau as one of the sisters, and yet both actresses don't have a background in martial arts. It would have been nice to see Joyce have a successful career, and though it never happened with her (she's now retired), this film really showcased her qualities as the next budding martial arts movie star, as she throws herself from one action set-piece to another.

The story shifts from action to a revenge-style flick and besides the melodrama, one other problem is that we don't know anything about the main villain, played by Wah Yuen of Kung Fu Hustle. He just appears and kills a few people and beats up Joyce.

Yuen certainly knows how to shoot and direct action; he has an understanding of what has to happen, how it works, how it should look and be conceived and in watching the set pieces in his movie, his knowledge and how this all unravels on screen knows no bounds. The action is well done, at times insane with the infiltration of a fashion show, brutal such as the vicious killing of the cop husband through the use of booby traps, but it does the trick and yet never strays to becoming silly or humourous and the melodrama, whilst some people will not care for it, I wasn't too bothered by this, as sappy and laid thick as some of it was. The film is predominately a female cast and thus, Lethal Lady was also part of the girls with guns movement of Hong Kong cinema, alongside the likes of Yes Madam starring Michelle Yeoh and Cynthia Rodrick.

I could definitely picture Godenzi as a worthy onscreen rival to Michelle Yeoh in the Hong Kong action movie girl stakes. 

The third act culminates in a shocking twist right towards the end, which no one will see coming yet it is one that deserves to be applauded and doesn't conclude in the typical fashion, as seen in many other Hong Kong action flicks. The showdown between Mina and Agnes is one of the best martial arts movie fights I've witnessed and just shows the athleticism of these two, as well as that female martial arts stars, can hit, kick and punch their way as hard as their male counterparts.

Final Verdict:

If you are a fan of action movies or Asian action cinema, Lethal Lady is one film you should not pass up on. Corey Yuen goes right to the core with the action, and he hits it hard, whilst it is supplemented by the melodramatic, tear-jerking moments. Some of these are a bit far-fetched, overdone and will be off-putting to those who are more into the action side of things.

With all that besides, Lethal Lady is one tough, yet underrated action flick from the Far East that has some great, yet ballsy action and with an intensity that whilst this is not fully maintained throughout the film, it galvanises it, making it watchable. Not only is the action worth sitting through this film for alone, but the quality of it is just brilliant.

Had the melodrama not been as extensive and taken up so much of the film, then I would have given it an extra mark, but still, as it stands, Lethal Lady is another impressive and at times action-packed showing that is a worthy addition to Hong Kong action cinema.


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