Her Name Is Cat (1998)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2007-03-09
“Her Name Is Cat” contains so many references to, comments upon and parodies of the works of John Woo and Wong Kar-Wai that it is difficult to tell where (for example) “Chungking Express” or “A Better Tomorrow” ends and this movie begins. The images appropriated/plagiarized/borrowed from the films of the other directors simply overpower the by-the-numbers narrative that Clarence Ford puts on the screen. Which isn’t a bad thing in itself—film is a visual medium so a character impaled by a cross or another character moving through the air in slow motion while firing a pistol in each hand, unless anchored to this particular story or definitely part of this particular director’s bag of tricks will be much more memorable than almost anything else that happens.

Clarence Ford has a few striking images of his own, most notably the insane workout routine of Cat. In order to make things as difficult as possible for herself she uses surgical tubing as a resistance device, although not only for stretching against its pull. Cat does a full set of very difficult exercises while eight lengths of rubber, anchored to a wall and to her, are stretched to their (or her) breaking point. This may be the most insanely demanding individual drill ever put on film—it certainly is the toughest I can recall. It must be done unassisted since she hunts alone and must maintain her strength and fitness without help. She isn’t isolated though. Cat does some of her workout on the roof of her building the right time for tough but sensitive cop John Cannon (Michael Wong) to see her during his commute from work.

The plot is simplistic—cop and assassin are first intrigued then obsessed with each other and are drawn ever closer by the force of circumstances. John Cannon and his daughter happen to walk in front of a democratic councilor during an attempt on his life by Cat. It was to be Cat’s last hit even though everyone but her knows that highly paid and well trained killers don’t get to retire. She wants a normal life, a life free to watch the cartoons on television and stuff herself with instant noodles. She also finds that she likes sex with John the cop, particularly when he is handcuffed to the headboard of her bed. Her life to that point had been very grim. Her grandmother and sister died of starvation on the Mainland while she tried to find food for them and she was recruited as a killer by a very shadowy organization in the PRC who has her killing off triad leaders in Hong Kong.

Almen Wong is just about perfect in this role. She rules the screen, is credible as the toughest mercenary that money can buy and is gloriously sexy in every outfit the costume designers sewed her into. Cat’s stoic placidity while being pawed by Sister Shin, her agent, works as a character trait—she keeps her emotions tightly controlled no matter what is happening—and also as a way to let Almen Wong act without really acting. Ford uses Wong’s physicality with close-ups of sweat dripping from her face during her workouts, lingering shots of her astounding cleavage in a low cut evening gown, shots of her in a bikini from below. He obviously is much more interested in Cat than in John Cannon.

John Cannon is a mess. His former wife is marrying again and moving to the UK with their daughter. His superiors don’t trust him and cops working for him are simply waiting for him to fail so they can move up. In addition to his marital and career difficulties there are people trying to kill him and he can’t even get any of his buddies to go out for a drink. He deals with all of this by borrowing a yacht from a friend and sailing away with his new lover, Cat. Bad move by everyone.

The entire tone of the movie shifts here with an almost audible “clunk” as it goes from an action melodrama with some well done fights and gun battles to an idyllic although doomed (again clear to everyone but Cat) romance. This goes on for far too long and is destroys the already tottering structure of “Her Name is Cat”. It does provide for plenty of shots of Almen Wong in a black bikini and a white wedding dress which soon becomes white lingerie and a long veil but no matter how much the audience appreciates those shots we know that this is just a prelude to more betrayal and mayhem, particularly since when they decided to take a break both of them were being hunted by Hong Kong police and Mainland assassins.

There are several cross dressing scenes. Sister Shin dresses in a man’s suit complete with collared shirt and tie with her short hair slicked back while briefing Cat on her next mission. Cat breaks into John’s apartment and rolls around on his bed wearing one of his suits. These scenes add a bit to the titillation factor, especially since Sister Shin fondles Cat while telling her who to kill and are also clear references to “Chungking Express” and “Fallen Angels”. Several well shot and choreographed fight scenes are highlights especially one in which Cat is attacked in her home/office/gym/lair. She escapes by catapulting herself through a wall using the workout surgical tubing as a slingshot—quite a move. The big gunfight at the end includes a face off at close range of Cat and an assassin pointing guns at each other, a slow motion scene of a gunman leaping into the air while firing a pistol in each hand and is preceded by Christian prayers in a candlelit church. Everything but the doves.

Ching Siu Lung is properly repellant as the big boss who prays that all his enemies will be killed. Kenix Kwok Hoh-Ying as the about to be former Mrs. John Cannon is able to look very pretty while portraying vindictiveness and hysteria. Ben Lam Kwok-Bun and Chik King-Man are tough and energetic as the Mainlanders sent to finish off Cat and John.
Reviewer Score: 6