No, its really a comedy.
Nah, its an action film.
Okay, its an action film and a comedy... with gratuitous rape.
One of the wonderful things about Asian films is the pure schizophrenia of genre that they can gleefully indulge. Other areas of the world may try, but no one quite handles it the same way as helmers from the Asian cinema landscape. Not that it is always handled well. Case in point, Angel of Vengeance a b-film with b-action heroine Yukari Oshima, that feels like three different films cobbled together- a third rate action flick, a substandard bumbling comedy, and every now and then, a softcore nasty.
We begin with a gangster named Monster Lo squaring off against a rival, Pan. Because Pan has captured his daughters, Lori and Lan, Monster Lo sacrifices himself in order to save their lives. Cut to twenty or so years later and the grown up Lori (Yukari Oshima- Angel, Dreaming the Reality, Story of Ricky) is busting her way into Pan's palace demanding that he turn over her sister. He tells her to, ‟Fuck off‟ (paraphrasing) and sends his goons after her.
Then, suddenly we go to a brothel where a girl named Betty is somehow successfully passing herself off as man despite the fact that her brilliant disguise is a suit that is five times too big and baseball cap that she stole from Boy George. Turns out Betty is the daughter of the brothel owner and she's trying to do a college paper on lust and love. Her mom doesn't want her around the underworld, thus the disguise, and when Betty gets caught, her whoremongering mother assigns two flunkies to follow Betty around and make sure she doesn't get into trouble.
The seemingly incongruous stories of Lori and Betty converge in a park where an injured Lori is being chased by Pan's thugs and Betty bumps into the thugs, using them to shake the doofus'es that are tailing her. Betty helps Lori escape and the two go their separate ways, kind of. Betty is almost raped but saved by a college guy named Wang, who she somehow convinces to become her thesis paper test subject by going to brothels and gathering information about the operation. Meanwhile, Lori and some macho buddies fairly ineptly try to uncover Pan's underworld operations and discover Lan's whereabouts. Betty and Wang's shenanigans trailing Turtle, Pan's main prostitute slave trader, actually get them closer to the underworld and Lan than Lori, but since the two have parted ways- and more or less operate in different kind of films- the two stories do not converge until the rushed finale.
I almost forgot to mention the henchwoman badass, who is blind and dresses in 19th century men's apparel and a Russian fur hat. Seriously, its like they figured, "Why not throw in a Brigette Lin crossdressing super-fighter character? After all, the films got everything else." Oddly, she doesnt even face-off with Yukari, no fem on fem finale action, and gets double-teamed beatdown by Yukari's two buddies.
Angel of Vengeance was poorly conceived and poorly executed. The bulk of the film is the light comedy of Betty's story which is filled with logic lapses, like why the daughter of a brothel owner would need to do research on brothels or sneak her way in, or the fact that Betty, a college student, lives alone in a lavish house with a front door that always seems to be open. Yukari Oshima takes a backseat for much of the film, popping up intermittently to throw a kick or two until the big fight finale. Add to that, the film turning from comedy to softcore with a couple of rape scenes where Turtle violates prospective whores. These scenes drag on far too long, for example, the first one lasts five uncomfortable minutes with the most inappropriate near-comic music playing on the background.
Japan born, HK transplant Yukari Oshima (aka. Yukari Tsumura, aka. Cynthia Luster) was one of the b-grade stars in Hong Kong's female driven action flick trend, often tagged the ‟Girls With Guns‟ genre, that was sparked in the mid 80's. Though she was a fine fight perfomer, acting and lookswise she was never considered as captivating as top-billed stars Moon Lee, Jade Leung, or Michelle Yeoh. Still, Oshima managed to carve out a decent career, most notably with her big splash in one of the genre high points Angel. As the genre faded in the early 90's, she moved into doing films in the Philippines or Taiwan where low budget actioners were still being widely produced and her name had some value. Many of her films, like this film, had an ‟Angel‟ tag to rope in and remind viewers of her biggest success. Angel of Vengeance is on the lower rung of her extremely mixed bag of ‟take-what-I-can-get‟ roles she took in the 90's, which ranged from slumming, supporting parts in Cat 3 numbers like Devil Girl 18 and Ghost Love, to some final, last hurrah teamings with genre cohorts like Moon Lee, Sibelle Hu, and Cynthia Khan in Beauty Investigator and The Avenging Quartet, to participating in cheapie action king Philip Ko flicks like Fatal Chase, Hard to Kill, Lethal Panther, and Ultracop 2000.
The DVD: Image
Picture: Anamorphic Widescreen. I really wasn't expecting much. This is the kind of film where one has to assume the budget/genre guarantees a rough source. That much is true. The image isn't stellar, mostly marked by bad production faults, and the print has its fair share of additional wear and tear, some line/dirt damage, and a too bright image, particularly a few scenes with exposure damage on the right side of the frame. But, it is anamorphic, and considering it is the kind of film lucky to see release on a budget HK dvd or Thai vcd, or the like, this is a decent trasfer.
Sound: Mono, Mandarin with Optional English subtitles. First off, one of the cheapie charms with this kind of film is spotting the stolen music. This time, the music is largely cribbed from John Carpenter's The Thing, inserted every moment they could tag as tense. The Mandarin dubbing is pretty atrocious, making the comedy parts all the more grating. The subtitles are decent, but veer into the unnecessary, like when the words ‟Dad,... dad!‟ are subtitled, ‟Papa... papa!‟
Extras: Original theatrical trailer.— Plus, the limited edition I reviewed included a t-shirt, a basic vacuum packed x-large white tee with the Angel of Vengeance logo. I would be laothe to wear it because if someone asked what it was, I couldnt for the life of me explian what good reason I had to wear a t-shirt from a crappy action film other than, "All more other shirts were dirty."
Conclusion: Image Entertainment has started a push in their Asian cinema branch, acquiring the US rites to some of the Shaw Brothers catalog being one of their better moves. On the flipside of that, Angel of Vengeance represents one of the odder b-fare releases they have acquired. I cannot really recommend the film outside a rental for folks who like to take a chance to revel in really bad cinema and marvel at the oddity of bad genre blending.