Fighting Madam (1987)
Director: Raymond Leung and Teresa Woo
Writers: Teresa Woo
Starring: Moon Lee, Alex Fong, Elaine Lui and Yukari Ôshima

The Plot: Our film begins focusing on a international narcotics organization who have the appearance of being a legitimate business, but they are anything but a regular board of directors. These drug peddlers are ruthless, however, and have no fear when it comes to using extreme amounts of violence in order to settle such disputes. Sitting on their board is Yeung (Yukari Oshima), who is a woman who may be more ruthless than all other members combined. Moon (Moon lee) is a secret agent who moonlights as a secretary during her offtime. When her boss John Keung (David Chiang) calls her back into action, she is paired with a team collectively known as The Angels. The members include: her good friend Elaine (Elaine Liu), the older and wiser Saijo (Hideki Saijô) and the new young American recruit Alex (Alex Fong). Together, this team will have to form together in order to defeat Yeung and her cronies who are looking to take over the drug trade throughout all of China.

The Review
There’s no question that we here at Varied Celluloid love the Hong Kong girls-with-guns genre. I don’t know for sure whether or not “girls with guns” is an efficient title, since it hardly describes the majority of these movies, but it is the closest thing that I have found to describe these movies. Although this is a genre that certainly needs defining, since it is so obscure that few people have actually written about it, the films are usually spectacular no matter what label you put on them. Featuring some guns, but primarily focusing on martial arts mayhem, these movies can get ridiculously over-the-top. The female leads always seem as if they have something to prove when compared to their male colleagues, and these movies are often innovative and fun because of this rivalry of sorts. Fighting Madam is another Hong Kong actioner that features the legendary Yukari Oshima and Moon Lee being pitted against one another yet again, but it actually proves to be quite unlike anything else I have seen from this genre so far. A cruel mix of outrageous violence and dull spy scripting, this proves to be a film where the good most assuredly outshines the bad.

For starters, when discussing Fighting Madam, the first thing I must point out is the cast. Stacked, from top to bottom with quality names, there was definitely a budget behind this movie. David Chiang is probably the biggest surprise within the cast, as this type of role is one that I am not particularly used to seeing him in. Known for his legendary stint with the Shaw Bros. studio, Chiang is showing his age in this role but he still manages to fit very well into that supervising role. I have seen him in other eighties films where he seemed to be placed in the limelight as a viable action figure, but this time out he really slips into the “Charlie” role in this Charlie’s Angels-esque feature. The cast are all quite brilliant in their positions, however, and Yukari Oshima may be the standout from the main cast. Portraying her most evil villain yet, she sets up murder squads at the drop of a hat, and she is just as apt to do the murdering herself if she is pushed. Physically though, this may be Oshima at her most lovely. Although she is often slightly masculine in appearance, with a fairly muscular physique for a petite woman and always sporting a short androgynous hairdo, she is quite dolled up in Fighting Madame. She plays the socialite psychopath with ease, even though you inevitably start to wish that she and Moon Lee would join forces in more pictures. Moon Lee is of course her usual bubbly self. Deliriously cute, but surprisingly acrobatic and nimble during her fight scenes, the girls get up to some rather ridiculous stunt work in this movie.

There are some slight instances of comedy, but by and large this is a pretty straight forward spy film. Similar to something one might see on Mission Impossible, Charlie’s Angels or any number of James Bond films, there is a ridiculously heavy plot running through this ninety minute feature. Unfortunately, this tends to be one of the movie’s biggest downfalls. It seems to pack in far too much over this small amount of time. With plot details being far too concealed by the strange rhythm of the movie, it becomes difficult to keep track of the varying plot motivations. Even after watching the film, I would be lying if I told you I knew exactly who the Angels force directly reports to. Even the general plot points that actually are covered in the film are usually fairly difficult to mentally navigate and keep track of. Yet, these things are usually forgiven once an awesome action sequence hits the screen. Thankfully, for the sake of Fighting Madam, these action sequences really start to heat up as the movie goes along. When the final twenty minutes beat along and we watch Moon Lee and Elaine Liu sporting machine-guns, while raiding a mansion in true A Better Tomorrow II fashion, everything is most assuredly forgiven.

The stunt work, which I mentioned above, really is off the charts. With many scenes taking place on top of buildings, or hanging off the side of bridges, Moon Lee and company do not disappoint in their stunts. The stunts seem to culminate with a massive jump from a four story building into a group of pine trees that seem to break the fall of our two heroes who brave the massive leap. Unfortunately we do not get to see the entire fall, or the impact that they make on the ground, but the stunt remains impressive. In all regards though, the action that is found in Fighting Madam is bloody, brutal and thoroughly exciting. A blend of Hong Kong action styles, the movie mixes traditional kung fu fight choreography with the heroic bloodshed aesthetics developed by John Woo. In the first thirty minutes, the movie manages to set the tone for the violence that is sure to come. During this initial sequence Yukari Oshima places the order for several of her enemies to be killed, and we watch as this happens in gloriously bloody fashion. A sequence that involves motorcyclists riding around and slicing some poor guy up with kitana swords may be the most ridiculous throughout the entire movie, but it still manages to work due to the “cool” factor.

The Conclusion
How does one even rate a movie like Fighting Madame? Sure, the story is a convoluted mess at times, but the action is so ridiculously great that it hardly seems worth discounting because of this. Surely, most fans will watch a movie like this one solely for the action – and if that is their main reason for watching, I can’t imagine them leaving disappointed. The final fight sequence between the Godesses of Hong Kong action, Yukari Oshima and Moon lee, is enough to secure this movie as a definite watch. Notorious in its brutality, this final fight is off the chain, but it is the other scenes of gratuitous violence and insanity that set it above the rest. I give it a four out of five, but it is a low four due to the quality of the narrative.