“Women on the Run” is one of the better known category III exploitation films, and is one with a pedigree of sorts, having been directed by the team of Hong Kong action master Corey Yuen (“So Close”) and long time collaborator David Lai. The two have worked together on a multitude of past films, including the classic “Saviour of the Soul”, as well as the French action film “The Transporter”. As a result, “Women on the Run” has a considerably higher budget than the majority of similar category III shockers, and also features some excellent martial arts choreography and action scenes. These elements raise the film almost to the point of being taken seriously as a thriller in its own right.
However, despite these glossy trappings, “Women on the Run” is unmistakably a category III film, containing a great deal of nudity and sexual violence, not to mention chaotic narrative lapses. These are either the film’s greatest strengths or its greatest weaknesses, depending on the viewer’s preferences. Although there are a number of fairly spectacular fight and gun sequences, there is simply far too much in the way of abuse and gratuitous unpleasantness to make the movie appeal to viewers who are not already genre fans, or those who do not appreciate pure, unadulterated trash.
The plot follows poor Siu Yin (Tamara Guo), a village girl from Mainland China who heads to the big city with her boyfriend, desperate to use her considerable martial arts skills to win her a career as an actress. Unfortunately, once there her boyfriend turns heel, whoring her out and turning her into a drug addict. After she snaps and kicks him to death, she flees to Hong Kong, where she falls into the clutches of the law, and is tricked into accompanying policewoman Ah Hung (Farlini Cheung, in Dante Lam’s “Option Zero”) back to the mainland to try and capture notorious drug lord named King Kong (played by Kim Wong-jin, an action choreographer himself, who has worked on films such as “My Wife is a Gangster”).
Everything goes wrong for the mismatched duo, and it transpires that Hung’s boyfriend is actually working with the drug lord. The girls end up dumped and framed in Vancouver, Canada, where they narrowly escape from the authorities, only to find themselves desperately fighting for their lives against the drug lord’s henchmen. After suffering indescribable abuse and degradation, the two start fighting back, returning to Hong Kong with one aim in mind: revenge.
The plot is hackneyed stuff, and unsurprisingly takes a backseat to the action. The film was obviously written around the scenes of sex and violence, and as a result the narrative progression is pretty ropey, with a number of large leaps in logic. Making things even more senseless is the fact that a lot of the film seems to be played for comedic effect, especially Yin’s drug addiction, which seems to come and go according to the film makers’ needs. This leads to a number of odd scenes where Yin is unable to fight until she is given a quick fix, at which point she leaps into the fray like some kind of super heroine. When mixed in with the film’s seedier and more brutal elements (as it often is), the viewer is made more than a little uncomfortable.
Of course, such things are par for the course for the category III genre, and “Women on the Run” is no worse than most of its peers. However, to those more mainstream viewers sucked in by the DVD box art, it may come as quite a shock, as will the film’s sexual content, which contains a great deal of female flesh and has the unpleasant habit of shooting the sex and rape scenes in the same slow motion, sweat and neon drenched fashion. The female characters certainly suffer a great deal during the course of the film, and their humiliations are depicted graphically in full, exploitative detail in a manner which again leaves the viewer with the lingering doubt as to whether or not they are supposed to be enjoying what they are seeing.
To the film’s credit, the two women certainly do fight back, and are far stronger, more moral characters than any of the males. They get plenty of opportunities to demonstrate their martial arts skills (generally when naked), and there are a number of satisfying payback scenes. This is not to suggest that “Women on the Run” carries any kind of feminist message in the slightest, but merely that it does go against the genre grain somewhat.
The film’s biggest advantage is undoubtedly its excellent direction, as co-directors Yuen and Lai keeps things moving fast, as well as throwing in a great deal of action. There are a number of inventive sequences and some fight scenes which verge on breath taking, which has to be a first for a film of this type. In many ways, the film can perhaps be seen as a sleazy precursor to Corey Yuen’s later “So Close”, and there are a few rough but recognisable signature action shots on show, including one spectacular fall through some scaffolding.
Mainly thanks to these scenes, “Women on the Run” is lifted above the category III label, and although it is probably a little too offensive for the average viewer, it offers cheap, slick thrills to those who enjoy seeing scantily clad women fighting back against their oppressors. Marred only by a little too much maltreatment of its female characters, the film still manages to work as a guilty pleasure by allowing those same female characters to revenge themselves in suitably violent and entertaining fashion.
David Lai, Corey Yuen (director) / Yuen-Leung Poon (screenplay)
CAST: Farini Cheung …. Hung
Tamara Guo …. Drug addict (narrator)