Sunday, July 11, 2004

Yes Madam (Huang gu shi jie)

* * ½ (out of four)
Seen 10 July 2004 at Coolidge Corner #1 (Midnight Ass-Kickings: Fu Fighting Females)

Before discussing the relative merits and disappointments of Yes Madam itself, let us take a moment to mourn the loss of the Allston Cinema 2, which, as I passed its former location on the bus ride home, was finally no more than a pile of rubble. It was not technically impressive when compared to the newer theaters that have sprung up in Boston (though I'd take it over the Copley), but over the last year of its life it was among the most interesting, showing two screens of Bollywood movies when it was not a sort of out-there auxilliary to the Coolidge Corner theater as the "Allston Cinema Underground" (a program which sadly only lasted a couple months) or the regular home of Garo Nagoshi's kung fu ass-kicking shows. Thankfully, some of these programs have found new homes, and, hey, the world needs another Staples.

(moment of silence)

Sadly, all my best lines about Yes Madam would likely simply be stolen from Garo's introduction. Suffice it to say that the people who make movies like this have fundamentally different priorities than most movie critics. If you were to start lecturing director Corey Yuen and company on narrative structure, pacing, or how everything in a movie must serve character development, they would probably shrug it off and say that would involve paying a writer, which is a luxury they can't afford. On a bad day, they might execute a spin-kick that catches you on the side of the head and then shove you face-first through a plate-glass window.

Fortunately, during Yes Madam, we only have to watch such actions, as opposed to being on the receiving end of them. From that perspective, it's tough not to be entertained, as stars Michelle Yeoh and Cynthia Rothrock dish out a rather impressive amount of pain during the fight sequences. There aren't quite enough of them, with Rothrock not even appearing until a half-hour into the film - at which point I immediately started to wonder whether the blonde, American actress was being poorly dubbed into Cantonese - and then spending much of her time doing a weird good-cop/bad-cop routine with Yeoh. The story involves a convoluted attempt for Inspectors Ng and Carrie Morris to find who killed their mentor by tracking down a piece of microfilm that he hid inside his passport, which a pair of theives who just happened to be in the hotel room at the same time lifted and gave to their forger friend. The forger, "Panadol" (the thieves are called "Aspirin" and "Strepsil"), is played by Tsui Hark and has one of the more amusing early scenes, as he flees pursuers by acrobatically moving around his cluttered living space.

Like many HK action movies, the stuff between the action scenes really serves no higher purpose than to get from one beatdown to another. I really doubt that the banter between Ng and Morris or the medicinally named trio is actually funny in Cantonese and just ruined by poor subtitling. Likewise, much of the rest of the movie is transparent buddy-cop clichés and over-the-top villainy. Indeed, the villain Tin (James Tien) does more maniacal laughter than John Travolta in Battlefield Earth, to the point of being self-referential about it. This winds up figuring into the film's stopping (it's too abrupt to call an "ending"), one of those classic "we have two minutes worth of film left to tie up our loose ends and no budget for more" deals.

All of this is, of course, relatively unimportant - how are the fights? Well, let's just say they make you understand why Hong Kong stuntmen must be very difficult to insure. Even when the director chooses to use slow-motion, they look fast, and there's no doubt that Ms. Yeoh and Ms. Rothrock can dish out some abuse. While the opening shootout is somewhat on the amusing side in terms of being over-the-top (sometime I'm going to do the math on how fast a ten-gram bullet would have to be moving to pick a charging, full-sized man up off his feet and shove him backwards), and only one or two of the middle ones are really notable (specifically, the one which introduces Rothrock), the finale is a thing of beauty. It's Michelle and Cynthia versus a veritable army of thugs, with one "boss" thug each for them to take out, in a lovely house that offers a truly astounding amount of glass to break. There are windows, glass sculptures, glass tables, and glass paneling around balconies. Pretty much every one of them has someone crashing through it at some point, often face-first. I hope action choreographer Hoi Mang (who also played "Aspirin") had plenty of bandages, cold packs, and Bactine on hand during shooting.

So what's the verdict? Two and a half stars, basically at the center of the scale. The tedious parts are balanced by the crazy action parts; the result being a movie that doesn't shine as a whole but whose best bits are certainly worth the $6 ticket price for a midnight movie.

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