Street Angels (1996)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2006-02-05
“Street Angels” was released in 1996 and is filled with references to the coming handover of Hong Kong to the People’s Republic. The sense of dread, anomie, rootlessness and fear of the future is palpable in the imagery and language of the film. Everything the characters do, the way they relate to each other and to the institutions that govern them—police, triads and local government—is based on the moment when the Union Jack will be pulled down for the last time and the yellow starred flag of the PRC will fly over the new Special Administrative Region. As one character says “It is 300 days away”—three hundred days and you can be sure that everyone is counting.

Because of the extremely short term outlook that exists there is a good bit of whistling past the graveyard bravado by those who have the most to lose, such as nightclub owners, and a lot of ignoring the obvious by others who don’t plan ahead very much anyway—prostitutes, karaoke hostesses and massage parlor girls. This was made extremely clear toward the end of the movie when Walkie Pi (Simon Yam) most improbably got the advantage of a large number of enemies who had planned to kill him. He dispatched most of his assailants from medium range—most of them just fell down after being shot, including three mobsters who died from one shotgun blast. The bloodiest coup de grace, though, was saved for a corrupt Mainland police officer who was going to leave Walkie to his fate. He begged Walkie to spare him, saying that they could work together once the PRC police were in power in Hong Kong—they could work together for fifty years. Wrong thing to say, as it turned out. Walkie shot him from point blank range, blood spraying everywhere, and saying “unchanged for fifty years”, which is, I believe, the English term for the economic and social status of the Colony. One can imagine some HK theaters erupting in cheers as the invincible triad, played by a very popular veteran actor, kills the corrupt representative of the looming takeover. Even the dreaded date, July 1, 1997 is bandied about—Walkie is told he can have a ticket to Holland on that date and then can come back when it is appropriate.

There is also discussion of what will happen to the criminals (or scoundrels as they are called and call themselves in the subtitles) when the PRC shows up. There are mainland officials looking around to take over the casinos, massage parlors and brothels after July 1, although one of them is rebuffed with a curt “You could get posted the next day” by Playboy Man, showing the disdain that the living on the edge criminal business owners have for the plodding apparatchiks from the East. The most tentative possible plans—more wishful thinking than actual planning—are made and then forgotten and those on the lowest level of the criminal enterprises hope that this will be no more than just another crack down by a reform minded new administration.

When not dealing with the angst of the coming change of government “Street Angels” is a decent enough crime movie although it does lean too heavily on the slender acting talents of Chingmy Yau. She gives it her very best with her rosebud lips, chipmunk cheeks, perfectly sexy overbite and huge eyes. She was a stunning woman in 1996 and was well served by the hair and makeup people but simply can’t carry a film. Glamorous and sexy though she is, she is not a movie star. Chingmy has a very limited range of expression and while she use them all in “Street Angels”, the old Dorothy Parker line (about Katherine Hepburn, of all people) that “she ran the gamut of emotions from A to B” often came to mind.

Her female co-stars are just as captivating. Shu Qi is staggeringly attractive, either with her blouse on or with it off. She is well cast as the tough but tender massage parlor girl who deserved much better than being brutalized. Valerie Chow seems to have a grand total of one flaw—her eyes are just slightly too close together. It is the type of flaw that makes one aware of her almost otherworldly perfection. She was perfectly cast as the airline attendant in “Chunking Express”, wasted (as was the rest of the cast) in “Sausalito” and not quite right in “High Risk”. Karen was a good role for her—the top girl in the top club—and she made it her own.

One wonders what someone other than Chingmy Yau could have done with Teng Yen. She starts off as the most righteous gangster mol ever. She hides two huge choppers until Walkie needs them to kill a rival, smashes one of Walkie’s assailants with a bowling ball, starts a fire to distract the police, tackles an armed (and about to shoot) policewoman, takes a vicious beating and goes to prison, all because he needed her to. She remains loyal to him after she gets out of prison, only to be disillusioned and crushed later on. She does, of course, finally get her revenge.
Reviewer Score: 5