Martial Angels (2001)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2007-05-21
Based on who is defining the issues, “Martial Angels” was inspired by, stolen from or a parodisic adaptation of a movie which was based on an American network television series that gave us the term “jiggle TV”. It is the perfect vehicle for the writing, directing and acting talents of Wong Jing.

While most of the movie is dull enough to cure insomnia there are two wonderful scenes. The first if very brief—Teresa Mak, Rachel Ngan, Sandra Ng, Amanda Strang and Rosemary Vandenbroucke pop out of a car and walk toward Shu Qi and Kelly Lin. They are five across, hair artfully flying, looking like fashion models stomping down a runway. The style echoes scores of recent movies. In some, such as Cameron Diaz, Lucy Liu and Drew Barrymore in “Charlie’s Angels” or Shannon Elizabeth, Ali Larter and Eliza Dusku in “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back”, the object is to satirize and comment upon such scenes in other movies but there is nothing in them as specific as in “Martial Angels” when Shu Qi says “Don’t they think they are cool”. She is pointing out how cool/desirable/ appropriate to the male gaze that the actresses are and distancing “Martial Angels” from movies with the same type of scene, but at same time, by referencing them, reminding us that this is a movie that is built almost solely around men looking at women.

The other scene worth seeing is, thankfully, longer and less dependent on post-Postmodernism to be funny. Sandra Ng and Wong Jing are in a parked car—just the set up sounds promising. Wong Jing plays a software security expert but isn’t concerned with hackers or other electronic thieves. His security set-up involves fingerprint recognition, cornea analysis, a vault door that weighs as much as the Titanic and a special lever that if released shuts the door on those in the vault. In order to breach this Rube-Goldberesque set of safeguards the Shu Qi’s gang has to get Wong Jing’s character’s fingerprints and the only way they can figure out to do that is to wire up Sandra Ng’s panties and bra with sensors that will transmit images of his prints once he begins to paw her.

But Wong has a problem—and Sandra has a bigger problem. Wong is still in mourning for his dead wife and even though Sandra looks just like her—or perhaps because she resembles her so closely—he is unable to maintain any sexual desire toward her. This is doubly infuriating for Sandra Ng, of course. She isn’t attractive enough for a nerdy loser like Wong to want to grab her—she looks great in this picture—and she is working against a deadline to get his prints. It doesn’t help that the rest of the gang are able to watch and listen to her and Wong. Sandra goes from flirtatious to provocative to demanding, none of which work. It is a comic tour de force by one of the premiere comic actresses of our time. Wong was smart enough to act as the straight man, feeding her lines and giving her reasons to get more and more angry with him.

The premise of the movie is paper thin—seven girls were raised in an orphanage. As fate would have it they grew up to be brilliant, attractive, athletic and very crooked. A life of crime beckoned and didn’t have to beckon twice. They have all the high tech gadgets that criminals need these days—sunglasses that work as a camera, an online database that has the value of all the important jewelry in Hong Kong, microphones that pick up conversations from around corners and filter out all the background noise—but their main weapon is their undeniable beauty which is on display for just about every minute of the film. The budget for Shu Qi’s lip gloss must have been astronomical. Two of the gang were played by MTAs—model turned actress--Amanda Strang and Rosemary Vandenbroucke, both of whom look enchanting but neither of whom can really act. Julian Cheung was well cast as a plot point and Terrence Yin did a good job of impersonating a really disgusting but shallow individual. Ron Smoorenburg’s abilities were not challenged in his role as a gwielo thug with martial arts training.

One of the many annoying aspects of “Martial Angels” is that while it satirizes high tech caper movies its writing is so sloppy that it undermines its message. Lampooning movie conventions can be very funny and Wong Jing is a master of parody and pastiche—“High Risk” is an example of his ability is sarcastic ridicule—but to make fun of them the filmmaker has to show what he is disparaging. One example is gaining access to the vault with the super secret software—essentially they open the door and walk in.

By no means a bad movie but certainly not on the same level as the “girls with guns” genre of the 1990s
Reviewer Score: 5