Dreaming the Reality (1991)
Director: Tony Liu
Writers: Lee Ho Kwan and Tony Liu
Starring: Moon Lee, Yukari Oshima, Sibelle Hu, Ben Lam, and Eddie Ko.

The Plot: Fox (Eddie Ko) is a businessman who has concocted a brilliant scheme to rule the underworld. Step one in this plan was to adopt a family, two girls and a boy, and then raise them to be the world’s deadliest assassins. As the trio grew older, they helped Fox dominate the Hong Kong underworld just as he had hoped. Yet, when Silver Fox (Moon Lee) and her sister (Yukari Oshima) take on a simple assassination job, things become far too complex. A van full of innocent children are accidentally killed in the midst of their assassination. While her sister has few issues putting this situation behind her, Silver Fox has her soul shattered by the experience. With Silver Fox still reeling from the guilt, the two girls are once again placed on another case. This time they have to travel out of the country and assassinate a man who holds the key to putting Fox in prison for the rest of his life. During this hit things go wrong yet again, and the two sisters are separated. Silver Fox is left with amnesia after an accident and she moves in with a retired Hong Kong cop (Sibelle Hu) and her brother Rocky (Ben Lam). Rocky has recently associated with a criminal organization who runs the local boxing racket, but he doesn’t realize the sort of trouble he is getting into. As Rocky makes this terrible mistake, Silver Fox may find herself in the crosshairs of both the local mob and even her own adopted father.

The Review
It should come as no surprise to see yet another Moon Lee/Yukari Oshima film covered here on Varied Celluloid. If there has been one surprise within my own viewing habits throughout the past few years, it has been my discovery of the “girls with guns” genre from Hong Kong. How I didn’t find this genre years before I can not explain, but these are movies that embody the very best elements within Hong Kong cinema from the 80s and 90s. Very different from the American version of the “girls with guns” genre, where the female vixens are often chose for their looks (or breast size) instead of their abilities, the Hong Kong version of the genre is ridiculously packed full of action and excitement. The two ladies who stand out tallest amidst the ocean of Hong Kong leading ladies are, of course, the previously mentioned Moon Lee and Yukari Oshima. Moon Lee, a girl-next-door type who seems far too cute to be performing her own stunts, and Yukari Oshima, the Japanese starlet with androgynous looks who seems as if she was born to play the villain, were meant to star opposite one another. Dreaming the Reality is yet another title where they are indeed played against each other, but it is also one of the few movies where they are shown to have a strong bond between one another. If you’re just expecting to see Oshima play the dark villain opposite to Moon Lee’s impeccably clean hero, then you are in for a surprise. Filled with intense action, stunts, choreography, and a very engaging story with some actual emotional resonance, fans of the genre should be quite pleased with this addition to their collections.

Indeed, looking back on the career of these two starlets, it doesn’t seem that the two actresses had the opportunity to play next to one another as compatriots often enough. If anything, Dreaming the Reality perfectly demonstrates that although Moon Lee and Yukari Oshima are both great when they are pitted against one another, they also do well when sharing dramatic scenes. Unfortunately, both actresses were often typecast and rarely given the opportunity to display their acting abilities. Yukari Oshima is as androgynous as she ever was in her role here. She dresses slightly more masculine than even I am accustomed to seeing her, but in a strange way she still retains a sexy appeal. Often presenting herself in leather, Oshima sizzles when she is onscreen. Moon Lee is the star of this vehicle, however, and she is certainly her usual adorable self. Yet, this is a more confident Moon Lee performance, and she manages to display a different side of herself with this very confused character. Within the early half of the movie she gets to show off many of her dramatic talents, and I would say that a great deal of the movie’s potential rests upon her shoulders. She sells the “haunted killer” idea very well and she acts as a surrogate for the audience as they see a very brutal side of her life. I find that both actresses acquit themselves quite well in the movie, and it is a shame that these actresses didn’t have the opportunity to move into other genres at some point. It is said that this inevitably pushed Moon Lee into a early retirement, but in roles such as this one she does show that there was more to her than just a great physical presence.

Director Tony Liu is a filmmaker who was very familiar with this genre. Along with this film, in his career Liu directed Killer Angels, Devil Hunters, as well as Angel Terminators 2. In some ways, he is one of the few “auteurs” of this genre. His career travels back to the seventies, however, and he spent the better part of his career working as an actor. Although he didn’t gather a massive number of certifiable Western hits under his belt, he did direct the classic Three Evil Masters which featured Chen Kuan Tai. Also found in his filmography is Holy Flame of the Martial World and Holy Virgin vs. The Evil Dead (featuring Donnie Yen), but the sections of his filmography that stick out in my mind are his additions to the Girls with Guns genre. His successes with the genre obviously transition from his great knowledge of action cinema, and Dreaming the Reality certainly shows this. The action sequences are ridiculously well-choreographed, and there are numerous crazy stunts throughout the movie that will appease the young kid deep inside each of us. There comes a moment in the film where Moon Lee rides atop a luggage rack, and she does this while also firing round after round into a crowd of police officers who are currently chasing her. How can I deny the awesomeness? This section of the film, which follows Moon Lee and Yukari Oshima trying to escape an airport, turns out to be far larger than one might expect from a low budget action title like this. It eventually culminates in a stunt where Moon Lee jumps out of a second story building and then lands on top of a large truck. While that would be a big enough stunt for most movies, the girls with guns genre must take things a bit further. So, after landing on the parked bus, she continues to fall and she rolls off onto a moving car before finally smashing into the concrete! Following Moon’s amazing stunt (who I hope had a stunt double), we have Yukari Oshima going on a dirtbike chase that completely blows away her similar sequence in the classic Beauty Investigator. Although the action within Dreaming the Reality is quite sporadic, this one extended sequence more than makes up for it.

The setting for the film is certainly a part of the movie’s success. Although the film is hurt by a plot that is wafer thin (honestly, amnesia as a main plot device is always a hard sell), by setting the film in another country it seems that the filmmakers were able to give their title a very special feeling. No doubt, it probably made the big action sequences much more viable from a budgetary standpoint, but it also adds a much broader feel to the project. Many of these films, particularly those from the latter part of this genre’s run, started to develop this “foreign” aesthetic. The footage during the muay thai matches that take place early in this film look as if it very well could have been shot at the same time as Kickboxer’s Tears, even though the two were obviously made at different times. There’s an early sequence in the movie where we get to see Rocky (Ben Lam) have his first kicboxing match, and in these scenes both the choreography and atmosphere are very reminiscent of the previously mentioned Moon Lee film. This isn’t a bad thing per se, it simply means that the choreography is fairly realistic and the movie carries with it a great deal of grit. However, some of the sound effects during this kickboxing sequence don’t really match up with the stylized-but-realistic action choreography. The scene plays out like a wild brawling muay thai match, and in that regard it feels real (although not world-champion material), but when Rocky lands a knee on his opponent it sounds like a piece of wood being broken against a brick wall. These scenes are also great because of their complete disregard for reality in terms of what prize fighting consists of. Once again, as with Kickboxer’s Tears, the cornermen for our fights give the most blatantly silly advice to their fighters. “Beat him across the belly and the head, and surely you will win!” Such advice is more akin to what you’ll find in Mike Tyson’s Punchout for the Nintendo Entertainment System rather than what might actually pop up during a fight.

The Conclusion
Dreaming the Reality is one of those titles that has been tagged at the upper echelon of the Girls with Guns genre, and this has happened for good reason. While I would disagree with ranking it in my personal top three, I can definitely see how others might feel this way. Unfortunately, I enjoyed the relationship between Moon Lee and Yukari Oshima’s characters so much that I simply could not ignore the weak plot. The characters are solid and they deserved a story that could sustain these performances. Still, the action and the charisma of our main cast make this more than worth checking out. I give the movie a very respectable four out of five. Definitely give it a look!