Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Golden Queen's Commando (1982)

I honestly cannot remember if the first eyepatch-sporting character I ever encountered and became fascinated with was Snake Plissken or Nick Fury (and even though I love Fury, the edge for me goes to Plissken as far as which I favor more).  Unlike with, say, pirates (where it’s somewhat of a symbol of shame and a life of debauchery), an eyepatch on an antihero (and when it isn’t used on a villain to augment their inhumanity it is a very distinctly antiheroic visual motif) garners a sense of respect.  It’s a symbol that the character has led a hard life, survived a terrific ordeal, and now has a badge of honor to prove their fortitude.  

The same applies to eyepatch-wearing women characters, though for some reason (perhaps just the tendency of the male psyche to have some slight pity on women who are pronouncedly imperfect, right or wrong, wanted or unwanted) here it also implies a sense of victimhood, and to my mind this is even more badass, the respect even more hard-won.  Here are some quick examples off the top of my head: Ana de Mendoza (Olivia de Havilland) from That Lady (the first onscreen example?), Frigga (Christina Lindberg) from Thriller - En Grym Film (arguably the most popular/instantly recognizable example), Patch (Monica Gayle) from Switchblade Sisters, Eden Sinclair (Rhona Mitra) from Doomsday, Elle Driver (Darryl Hannah) from the Kill Bill films, and Molotov Cocktease (voiced by Mia Barron) from Venture Bros.  All of these characters have some masculine traits, yet they still somehow maintain a strong core of femininity.  If nothing else, they all take charge and do things their own way, because being passive only leads to pain, as the back story (implicit or explicit) behind the patch suggests.  I can now happily add to this very short, very incomplete list Black Fox (played by Brigitte Linn, here credited as Venus Lin), the distaff Major Reisman of Yen-Ping Chu’s Golden Queen’s Commando (aka Hong Fen Bing Tuan aka Seven Black Heroines aka Amazon Commandos aka Jackie Chan’s Crime Force).

Six women (Amazon [Theresa Tsui], Black Cat [Elsa Yeung], Brandy [Hilda Liu], Quick Silver [Sylvia Peng], Sugar Plum [Sophia Ching], and Dynamite [Sally Yeh]) are sentenced to a very claustrophobic prison camp, circa 1944 (by way of 1982, naturally).  The aforementioned Black Fox shows up and embroils the women in a plot to destroy a heavily fortified secret chemical lab.

Since the above synopsis doesn’t completely do justice to these ladies, allow me to expand a bit on their individuality (as the film itself does with rather extensive introductions for each of them).  Amazon appears at a death match where some guy has just torn the throat out of his opponent with a set of spiked knuckles.  Wearing nothing but an animal print bikini and sporting several (I can only guess they’re supposed to be) tribal tattoos, she of course kills the fighter.  Amazon doesn’t say a single word the entire film, but she’s the brute strength of the team.  Black Cat is a gunslinger who may or may not be extremely religious (she wears a giant cross around her neck and sports a “trick” Bible), has David Bowie’s hairdo from Labyrinth and Dale Bozzio’s makeup sense (both of which were extremely popular during the Forties, as I understand it).  She gets caught cheating at poker and winds up shooting the other player.  Brandy is a lady samurai who begs for the money to buy wine.  Once she gets it, along with some unwanted groping and humiliation from some typically piggish drunken soldiers, she transforms into an acrobatic martial arts master and kills the men who tormented her.  Quick Silver is a thief with the fashion stylings of a 1930s gangster who we assume can break any safe and/or pick any lock.  Ever the kleptomaniac, she gets caught trying to steal the necklace right off of a slumbering French consul.  Sugar Plum is a hooker of the Southern Belle variety.  She gets shorted money after playing out an overly elaborate fantasy for some clown of a client and proves that Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.  She also sports a couple of facial tattoos, one of a heart, one of a bow and arrow (a Cupid reference?).  Dynamite is a bandit (I think) who routinely wears (you guessed it) dynamite on her person to avoid being shot.  When a deal she had in place goes sour, she nonchalantly blows up the house with the men who screwed her over still in it.  She also sports a tied off denim shirt and jorts.  Aside from her distinctive eyepatch, Black Fox dons a fur hat and vest that makes her vaguely resemble a Cossack.  How’s that for an assortment?

This film is purely a vehicle for women to kick ass, and they do it very well.  They are up against either evil, evil men or complete buffoons.  The Commandant of the prison camp (Hsiu-Shen Liang), aside from being in league with the Nazis, is both a rather charming sadist and a James-Bond-esque, cat-stroking villain.  After a prisoner is fried by the electrified fence/wall encircling the camp, the Commandant asserts that they are all one “big, happy family.”  He then demonstrates that his tower guards are expert marksmen, and that if they fail in killing escapees, they also will die.  All of the bad guys in Golden Queen’s Commando are smug, and they are all equally well-versed in the art of the heartless cackle.  

Conversely, the Warlord (Bat-Liu Hui) who captures the women is a clod (as well as all of his men, one of whom is, of course, named Fatty).  The women challenge him to a tournament to compete for their freedom.  Said competition includes (but is not limited to) a spaghetti-eating contest (guess who the male contestant is), a drunken sharpshooting contest, and a blindfolded marksmanship contest.  This last bit really nails home the point of just how inept the Warlord and his men are.  The balloons being used as targets are rigged to explode and inevitably do so at just the right moment to embarrass them.  But he unites with the commandos, and he becomes the sole witness to their bravery and sacrifice.  His perspective on them turns, and it’s he, as a sort of audience surrogate, who comes to understand the innate bond the disparate women formed (despite their differences, tensions, et cetera).

Chu’s movie is flawed, to be sure.  The mission portion of the film is extensively just the women fleeing their captors, and the plotting gets muddled around the midpoint before speeding up to fly through its climax, giving the final set piece short shrift.  That said, it also spends the entire first half of its runtime establishing the characters and dealing with situations in the prison camp, and this is key in getting us to follow characters that are simultaneously cartoonishly broad and strangely sympathetic.  The seven women are distinct (the possible exception being Amazon, who, in fairness, is just kind of there).  Quick Silver is scared, unsure of herself.  Sugar Plum is a crass opportunist.  Black Cat is an equal to Black Fox (cat and dog, get it?), and challenges her to a duel to prove her worthiness as leader (and also to see who’s better).  Brandy is an alcoholic who routinely puts herself in harm’s way to feed her addiction.  Dynamite is a cold pragmatist who still flirts with danger (how else to explain her fetishization of explosives?).  Black Fox is supposedly the aloof mastermind, but she still openly displays true concern for her teammates.  

Nevertheless, this is an action film, and it plays well in that regard.  There is a comfortable mixture of explosions, gunplay, and martial arts, and they flow together admirably.  Visually, Golden Queen’s Commando is quite stylish, making solid use of lighting, composition, slow motion (especially the shots of the pursuers on horseback, which give a distinct, otherworldly sense that they’re riding forth straight out of Hell), and editing that’s much more cohesive then you get with some Asian genre cinema.  In the end, the film is a comic book come to life, a jumbo box of your favorite candy with no repercussions, and weird sex with one of the more fascinating people you’ve ever met, all rolled into one.

MVT:  The women take it away in this one.  I wanted more and more of all of them (and not just because they’re all attractive).

Make or Break:  All of the girls’ introductions are great little mini-set pieces punctuated by freeze frames with title cards and stats of what they each did and their punishments.  Good fun.

Score:  7.5/10

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