The Avenging Quartet (1992)
Director: Stanley Siu Wing
Writers: Stanley Siu Wing (?)
Starring: Moon Lee, Waise Lee, Cynthia Khan, Chin Kar-lok and Yukari Oshima

The Plot: In ancient China a majestic painting was crafted that was the envy of all the land. When the Japanese conquered China, they took this painting back home with them. During the second World War, the new owner of this painting secretly hid the results of numerous bio-warfare experiments inside of this very painting. Over time, the painting found its way back home to China, but several prideful Japanese, who know about the painting and its secrets, will do anything to get it back. So, we skip forward and are introduced to Feng (Moon Lee) whose brother has recently passed away. She runs into Chin (Cynthia Khan), a young woman in desperate search for her lover who abandoned her back in mainland China. Moon tries to help, but there is only so much that she can do with very little to go on. When Feng finds that her sister-in-law is trying to sell all of her brother’s assets, she steps in to stop the madness. Unfortunately, her former sister-in-law has mob connections and this throws Feng and Chin into a life & death struggle with some nefarious thugs. While this is going on, the sale of the aforementioned painting is being set up by a man that Moon Lee has secret affections for, and the Japanese are edging closer to attaining it. The Japanese are inevitably sending their very best agent, played by Yukario Oshima, to retrieve it.

The Review
The “girls with guns” genre, within Hong Kong cinema, is something that I had breezily glossed over throughout my years of searching around the cinematic world library. Very different from the American b-movie version of this genre that we had here in the states during the nineties, the Hong Kong equivalent has no focus on T&A or intentional camp. Instead, these are movies that strived very hard to top their male competitors in what was surely the action-film-capital of the world. She Shoots Straight and Kickboxer’s Tears were both interesting developments within the genre, but there are still many more films to try and cycle through as I learn more about these films. The Avenging Quartet is another title in the long list of films to pair Moon Lee and Yukari Oshima opposite to one another, but if you come into this one expecting to see four tough-women “avenging” all over the place, you are bound to leave disappointed. Retitled for distribution, it seems that The Avenging Quartet was something that simply “sounded good” to whoever had the money. As it stands, this is a movie about two “good girls” who take on a bunch of guys, as well as two gals who don’t factor heavily into the plot. Still, that doesn’t mean that this isn’t a solid movie by itself, because it really is!

Although you might come into a movie such as this expecting nothing but non-stop action and fun, The Avenging Quartet tries to do things a bit different. Although the movie starts with a bang, as we watch Chin (Cynthia Khan) fight with a few baddies who lob grenades in her direction, the movie quickly changes its pace. The movie actually opens with a rather somber note, to tell the truth. We see a lot of Feng (Moon Lee) walking along the dark streets of Hong Kong whil wishing that she were still with her former lover, a lover that we later find out is Hsiong (played by a rapidly aging Waise Lee). Then we are formally introduced to the character of Chin, who is also looking for her former boyfriend. The film plays this very depressing sort of music while all of this goes on, giving the movie an extremely dramatic atmosphere that sticks out like a sore thumb. After watching the introduction, with all of its explosions and machineguns, this rather sad story about women having been abandoned just seems depressing in comparison. Although it wouldn’t normally be considered a “good” thing, it is a blessing that the movie is fairly erratic in its style and mood. After this relatively slow start, once Moon Lee and Cynthia Khan team up the comedy really starts to stack up. The action remains surprisingly sparse, but it always of a fine quality. Fight scenes are to be expected, but there is also a decent amount of gunplay, swordplay and even a couple of excellent car chases to top everything off.

Much of the comedy within the film is provided by the character of Paul (Chin Kar-lok), who is a rather baffoonish police officer placed in charge of protecting the two ladies. He continually tries to “woo” the girls, but unfortunately his brain is apparently made of diced carrots. Although Hong Kong comedy is almost always a mixed bag that leans towards the lowest-commond-denominator, I have to admit that I did quite like his performance. While Moon Lee and Cynthia Khan both present very solid dramatic performances (Moon even sheds a few tears), they are this way in order to provide straight characters to play off of the craziness that Chin Kar-lok brings to the table. He brings a certain amount of good cheer to the movie, and his presence is readily felt once he is introduced. As the movie went on, I became more and more thankful for Chin Kar-lok’s character. Although this may be considered an action-comedy in terms of genre, it is much more “comedy” than it is “action.” This isn’t a terrible thing, it just puts far more emphasis on other aspects of the movie. If the film didn’t have Chin Kar-lok hamming it up, or if Moon Lee wasn’t being her regular adorable little self, this might have been a very different sort of movie.

The movie actually looks really good for this sort of project. Although one imagines Moon Lee and Yukari Oshima starring in dozens of movies in only a scant amount of time, The Avenging Quartet at least has the appearance of a film that had a decent amount of preparation behind it. There are a few really interesting tracking shots throughout the movie, as well as some atmospheric lighting. During one sequence, Chin Kar-lok, Moon Lee and Cynthia Khan actually visit a drug den known as “heaven,” and it almost resembles something out of Jacob’s Ladder. Blue strobe lights lighting long corridors mark our entrance into this hellish location, and we soon watch as the camera pans between numerous rooms that are filled with party-go’ers who are all busy getting stoned. The movie switches gears often, but it can be very visual when it is called for.

The sequences involving the painting-subplot, where we follow a few brief scenes from Yukari Oshima as well as numerous scenes of Waise Lee trying to escape Japanese assassins, almost seem entirely disconnected from the main crux of the film. The wild adventures of Moon Lee and Cynthia Khan are where the plot actually finds its teeth, and this entire Japanese-Chinese painting subplot can feel a bit tacked on at times. Despite the introduction for the film featuring some narration that tells us all about this mysterious painting that seems so dramatically important to the plot, all of these scenes seem secondary to the drama that unfolds when the girls are onscreen. While it is thrilling to see Yukari Oshima finally pop up, even if it is relatively late in the movie and for very little screen time, it is unfortunate that she isn’t spending her screen time with Moon Lee and Cynthia Khan. As Oshima gets closer to Moon Lee’s side of the story, things become progressively more interesting, but the movie misses the mark in presenting anything dynamic between these three.

The fight scenes are as A+ as you might expect from this caliber of talent. There is a fight scene set in a gym, during the latter part of the movie, that places Yukari Oshima against fellow Japanese actress Michiko Nishiwaki, and it turns out to be rather epic. Oshima shows up in her denim jacket and is quick to start laying down a beatdown. The great thing about Oshima in this film is how drastically she seems to change outfits throughout the movie, despite having a very limited role. The previously mentioned denim number seems to be her “Hong Kong” outfit, but when she is chasing people down with her dirtbike she prefers a leather combo. My personal favorite outfit of hers may be the kimono that she wears when back at home in Japan. It really makes no sense, as this story takes place in “modern” times, and this kimono scene looks like something out of a samurai film, but that zaniness is simply a part of what this movie delivers. The fight scenes, such as the gym one and the amazing conclusion set inside of a burning building, are fairly tremendous in their quality.

The Conclusion
The movie can be a bit of a mixed bag, I suppose. I think that this title is far superior to Beauty Investigator, which was similar in having Oshima as the antagonist against Moon Lee in a rather comedic film, but that doesn’t make this a title without its fair share of issues. Still, The Avenging Quartet is quite a bit of fun and I would hate anyone to miss out on it. Overall, I give the movie a high three out of five. Although this isn’t so amazing that I feel the need to recommend it to all viewers, I still feel that it is a movie that I will come back and watch later on simply for the fun of the experience.