“Martial Angels” has the makings of a good movie. It’s got a terrific cast, including Qi Shu as a retired thief forced back into the life when her ex-boyfriend (Julian Cheung) is kidnapped by the Russian mob. The target? A super duper anti-virus computer software. Now you may be asking yourself: What makes this anti-virus software so super duper that the Russian mob plans to get rich off it? I mean, couldn’t they just go to Circuit City and buy a copy of Norton Anti-Virus like the rest of us?
Apparently not, because the Russians are determined to get their hands on the software. Luckily for them, Cat’s new job is as a secretary at the company that makes the software (Movie Coincidence strikes again!). Forced to steal the McGuffin, Cat gets back with her old gang, female thieves who grew up in the same orphanage. They include Octopus (Kelly Lin), who the movie insinuates is a lesbian; Monkey (Sandra Ng), the den mother of the group; and four other beauties named Goldfish, Pigeon, Peacock, and Spider. I guess Donkey and Camel were busy. (Har har, I kill myself.)
Despite the very impressive cast, “Martial Angels” is often held back by an obvious low budget that results in constricted locales. The opening sequence, where Cat and company steals jewelry from a woman who lives in some sort of castle (?), seems to be where the bulk of the budget was blown. The movie itself features only two action sequences — one takes place in a building, and the other inside a curiously empty, but still functioning, refinery of sorts. If you don’t know, there’s no bigger clich’ in an action movie than to set your final battle in a refinery that is spouting steam and whatnot.
The highlight of “Angels” is the effortless rapport between star Qi Shu (“Haunted Office”) and her fellow thieves. Of note is Cat’s relationship with Kelly Lin (“Running Out of Time 2″), which is seething with hidden secrets and unspoken questions. The sisterly bond between the female thieves are well handled and convincing, with Sandra Ng (“Dance of a Dream”) providing a lot of the movie’s comedy. Jing Wong, responsible for a lot of Hong Kong movies that I have abhorred over the years, co-stars as Fred, an (appropriately) oddball character.
Male star Julian Cheung has nothing more than a glorified cameo, and not surprisingly he’s unimpressive in the company of his beautiful co-stars. Director Clarence Ford (“Dragon From Russia”) does okay with what he has to work with, but the action sequences in the building and refinery still come out choppy and generally lacking. There’s no clarity or crispness to the action scenes, so all we can really see are a lot of bodies moving and hear loud sound effects.
It doesn’t help that the screenplay by Sharon Hui offers up some very bad and unnecessary subplots. One that really takes the cake is the relationship between the women and a safecracker name Bone (Terence Yin), who also happens to be a sexual deviant. Although Bone shows, at every opportunity, his desire to rape one of their member, the women nevertheless leaves that particular member not only alone with — but completely vulnerable to — the deviant. This, of course, leads to an exploitative scene that needs to be seen to believe.
“Martial Angels” has a lot of bumps in the way, but I enjoyed the interaction between the women just enough to forgive some of the film’s trespasses. Qi Shu is proving to be an excellent actor in a very short time, while Kelly Lin once again plays serious very well. This isn’t “So Close”, where Corey Yuen’s action scenes flow like a ballet, or even “Charlie’s Angels”, where everything is so over-the-top that you can’t help but shake your head and like it.
“Martial Angels” is just never everything it could be, and a lot of missteps, such as the whole sexual deviant angel, taint the film.
Clarence Ford (director) / Sharon Hui (screenplay)
CAST: Julian Cheung …. Chi Yang
Qi Shu …. Cat
Kelly Lin …. Octopus
Sandra Ng …. Monkey
Teresa Mak …. Goldfish
Rachel Ngan …. Pigeon