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Despite its title, “I Love Maria” is not a romantic comedy at all, but is in fact a wacky Hong Kong comic book style variation on “Robocop” – the film’s alternate moniker “Robot Force” being far more suitable and indeed more representative of its content. Seemingly inspired by Fritz Lang’s immortal 1927 science fiction classic “Metropolis”, which also features a similar looking female robot called Maria, the film was directed by Zhong Zhi Wen (also responsible for the Michelle Yeoh vehicle “Royal Warriors”), produced by Tsui Hark, who also stars, and features action choreography by the always excellent Ching Siu Tung.
The film begins as a massive robot called Van robs a bank, announcing to the police who try in vain to stop it that it is working on behalf of a group of criminals rather cheekily called ‘Hero’. The gang are led by the wicked Lam (Ben Lam, recently in “Flash Point”) and his equally unpleasant lover Maria (Sally Yeh, also in John Woo’s “The Killer”) and are a wicked bunch, deciding to knock off alcoholic ex-member Whiskey (Hark, who actually turned up in quite a few of his own films) after he makes friends with police inventor Curly (top 1980s comedy actor John Sham). Aided by Whiskey’s old master (“Mr Vampire” himself, Lam Ching Ying), the two go on the run, only for the gang to send their latest creation to kill them, a robot version of Maria (also played by Sally Yeh and resembling a cross between her namesake from Lang’s film and “Robocop” – though with bigger breasts). Curly manages to reprogram the killer machine to make her one of the good guys, something which doesn’t sit too well with the gang, leading to an almighty showdown.
The opening scenes of “I Love Maria”, as the massive Van robot goes on the rampage are an absolute riot, setting the scene for the fun to follow, and it is immediately clear that fans of 1980s Hong Kong craziness are in for a real treat. Certainly, the film never lets up, delivering scene after scene of deliriously high camp action in fine style, keeping the viewer entertained throughout. Although directed by Zhong, the proceedings bear the obvious mark of Tsui Hark and Ching Siu Tung, being very much in-keeping with their brand of high energy fantastic film making. As such, the film is well paced and exciting, with plenty of aerial action scenes, most of them surreal – for example a Tarzan inspired gun battle on swinging vines. Ching is on great form and the choreography is exciting in suitably cartoonish fashion. This having been said, the film is actually surprisingly violent, with a number of jarringly bloody scenes which are quite at odds with its generally innocent tone, though this arguably just adds to the fun. In addition to this, there is an incredible amount of destruction on screen, especially during the robot duels, and the film sets some kind of record for demolishing walls, largely since Maria and the Van seem quite incapable of ever using doors.
All things considered, the special effects are best described as being ‘entertaining’, though this is arguably part of the film’s considerable charm. The robots themselves are outstanding creations that actually move quite convincingly, and which come with plenty of wacky powers such as jet boots and extending fists, not to mention an impressive array of hidden missiles and guns. The film as a whole is filled with gadgets and is a wonderfully creative and imaginative affair, frequently making for surprising viewing.
As expected, the comedy mainly revolves around slapstick and screwball clowning, though it fits well with the wacky subject matter, and the film is generally amusing and not too scattershot. Hark and Sham make for a great comic duo, and spend most of their scenes together either trying to get the robot Maria to hit or electrocute the other, or simply doing it themselves with bricks. The gags are enhanced by sound effects liberally lifted from a number of Hollywood science fiction films which genre buffs will have a fine time trying to identify. Topping things off are a few scenes of overwrought emotion thrown in towards the end, which needless to say only serve to make things even funnier.
All of this adds up to make “I Love Maria” hugely enjoyable and a film not to be missed by any aficionados of far out cinema. Surely deserving of cult status, it works on pretty much every level in the uniquely Hong Kong 1980s style and guarantees a good time for all.
David Chung, Hark Tsui (director) / Hark Tsui, Gai Chi Yuen (screenplay)
CAST: Dennis Chan … Curly’s Boss
Paul Chun … Police Captain
Ben Lam … Saviour
Ching-Ying Lam … B 12
Tony Leung Chiu Wai … T.Q. Zhuang
John Sham … Curly
Hark Tsui … Whisky
Kirk Wong … Bartender
Sally Yeh … Maria, The Robot