Sunday, July 25, 2004

Inspector Wears Skirts (Ba wong fa)

* ¾ (out of four)
Seen 24 July 2004 at Coolidge Corner #1 (Midnight Ass-Kickings: Fu Fighting Females)

I don't ask for much from a movie called "Inspectors Wear Skirts" at a series titled "Midnight Ass-Kickigs: Fu Fighting Females". Well, that's not true. I expect certain base types of id-stimulating entertainment: People getting beat up, maybe some T&A, some zany comedy. Inspector Wears Skirts, unfortunately, falls short of even those modest goals.

It starts promisingly enough, jumping straight into an action scene of Cynthia Rothrock and Sibelle Hu chasing down some murderous black-clad theives on a movie set with a Sheik somehow involved. It's a good sequence, choreographed and directed by Jackie Chan and his stunt team. Then, however, Rothrock departs for half of the remaining film while Sibelle Hu's character ("Madame Wu") is put in charge of training a "female commando" team to be used in diplomatic and hostage situations where a male team would be too threatening.

Unfortunately, at this point the movie turns into a bad Police Academy imitation. The biggest problem is that it doesn't make nearly as much sense as a Police Academy movie - if these ladies are supposed to be molded into a "top squad", then shouldn't they already be police officers? We're really given no idea what the background of these characters are, or why they were chosen for this training. Only one or two of them are given much in the way of personalities. The training scenes (which are something like a third of the movie) are played fairly straight and thus wind up pretty boring.

I had hope when the movie took a bizarro detour about midway through, as the girls and the other group training at the same facility, the all-male "Tiger Squad", meet up at a roller rink - yes, everyone goes roller skating, wearing their funky eighties fashions (the movie was released in 1988). The little romantic subplot is as awkward as it usually is in these Hong Kong action/comedies, and the comedy as ham-fisted, but the pièce de resistance comes when one of the Tiger Squad members joins the bad in the middle of the rink and breaks into song (with the rest of the Squad backing him up). He's got "late-eighties Hong Kong one-hit wonder" written all over him, and the sequence is at least attention-grabbing. It winds up looking silly, though, and later devolves into a fight between the Female Commando and the Tiger Squad. That idea has potential - Jackie Chan directing a funny fight on roller skates! - but it doesn't get within five miles of what it could be, winding up just a mess.

Of course, any Police Academy knock-off worth its salt must wind up with the cadets' first assignment, and this one's no exception. That's notable for exactly one thing, a fight between Cynthia Rothrock and Jeffrey Falcon as a jewel thief. It's an astonishingly poorly-written finale, mostly managing to make the films' characters look stupid. It really makes you appreciate the by-the-numbers screenplays of Hollywood filler; if those are predictable, at least the formula makes some vague sort of sense. It also has the trademarked Hong Kong abrupt ending, freeze-framing at an apparently random point, followed by outtakes in the credits (many of which appear to come from deleted scenes), with the best involving fire.

The concept, and fairly low ambitions of this movie make it seem like it should be easy to create something at least passable. Instead, Inspector Wears Skirts winds up a reminder that this moviemaking thing ain't as easy as it looks.

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