One may be the loneliest number, but five (and three, and seven, and thirteen; all odd prime numbers, funny enough) has a nice ring to it, too, and good things tend to come in that number. For example, we have five fingers (and toes) and senses. There was The Jackson Five and The Dave Clark Five. Five Alive was a fruit juice/punch concoction I craved in my youth and very rarely got. In the world of cinema, you have Devil Times Five, Fast Five, Slaughterhouse-Five, Five Easy Pieces, and Five Deadly Venoms, to name but five. It’s that last one that relates to this week’s film, Shut Dik’s (what a great name!) Bruce Kung Fu Girls (aka Five Pretty Young Ladies aka Wu Jiao Wa). Now, this film has about as much to do with Chang Cheh’s classic martial arts masterpiece as it does with Bruce Lee (whom do you think the Bruce in the title refers to?), but it does actually have five young women who can handle themselves in a fight, and we all know that things that come in fives have to be good, right (especially when they’re doing Kung Fu dressed in garish costumes)?
The Invisible Thief terrorizes Taiwan, robbing from the rich and giving to himself. The Police Superintendent (Lui Ming) is flummoxed. Luckily, his five nieces, who operate a Kung Fu gym/spa, volunteer their services in catching the bandit. But will Ku Lin’s (Polly Shang Kwan) feelings for the hapless scientist Lu conflict with her devotion to justice?
Bruce Kung Fu Girls is as much of a Bruceploitation film as Schindler’s List is a buddy cop film. It’s deliberately mistitled to lure fans of Lee into the theater. Don’t misunderstand, I didn’t expect this movie to have anything whatsoever to do with the man, a la something like The Dragon Lives Again, but you have to admit, it’s fairly brazen to slap even an allusion to his name on a film like this. I admire that spunk. What this film does, like The Dragon, is creates a science fiction influenced superhero world. Key to this is the idea of “technology.” The Invisible Thief uses super science to fuel his super powers. He has a cheap little laboratory and a shiny, silver suit, and it’s all very kitschy while also being just enough for the audience to buy it. The police, who normally have enough on their hands with the likes of thugs under the command of Mistress Pei Pei Chow (Chang Chi-Ping), now have to contend with robbers whom they cannot see. Despite the fact that this guy calls his shots, the cops just can’t seem to get their shit together (why does no one think to throw a bucket of paint in the proximity of the floating gun?), the Superintendent and his boss lament their own Stone Age techniques (“Technology is all around us. We’re getting left behind”). The Girls must be used because they are “modern,” though not necessarily tech savvy. What they are, however, is clever, and they wear black leather uniforms, complete with hot pants, thus making them a superhero team of sorts.
The Girls have a seemingly fierce feminist streak in them. They use a girls-only swimming pool. They run a girls-only gym. They have no compunction about throwing down with bad guys, and the bad guys (I suppose being equally feminist) have no compunction about striking back. For all their independence, however, the Girls all behave like school children. This is spurred on by the appearance of Lu, in a quasi-interesting reversal of the cliched “damsel in distress” syndrome. They save his sad ass, and each woman suddenly thinks he’s the cat’s meow. This is illustrated in a rather drawn out sequence. Lu visits the gym and gives each of his rescuers a gift (I fantasize it was Pet Rocks for all). That night, each of them makes an excuse to call Lu and go out to meet him (let’s just never mind that he doesn’t accept any of their invitations that we are aware of). While waiting, each of them hallucinates that they see Lu with another woman, and they react violently. They are, in effect, Boy Crazy. But Lu only truly has eyes for Ku Lin, of course. For all of the individual freedoms for which the Girls fight, they are, in the end, just young girls who get swept away by the wave of puppy love that Lu instigates in them.
Bruce Kung Fu Girls has a certain easy charm to it. It is purely lite, dumb fun, and it knows this. Yet, it missteps in two very distinct ways. First, it is overly concerned with the act of frolicking. The Girls jaunt off to the park and toss a large ball around. They throw a birthday party for Chao Ping, the youngest of the quintet (we know she’s the youngest because she always wears her hair in pigtails and acts even more childish than the other four). They go camping with some pals, but not before they waltz all through the forest, chuckling and acting up (or acting up as much as they ever will). The camping trip also includes a full song sung by Ku Lin (you can almost smell the record tie-in, can’t you?). Dik wisely spices up these long sequences by having the bad guys randomly appear and cause a ruckus, just not much of one. The birthday party winds up turning into a cake-smashing party, and the villains appear to be having as much fun as the attendees (and far, far more than the viewers). Second, the plot, such as it is, meanders and forgets that it exists at all for long stretches. Further, the crime aspect of the film doesn’t do much original and repeats itself once or twice too often. The finale is sufficiently ridiculous (Mistress Pei Pei Chow seriously did not think this thing through), and it all ends up as harmlessly as a television cop show. The thing is that the film doesn’t give itself over to its more unique aspects enough to make it fully satisfying. It’s like the frozen pizza of Taiwanese pulp cinema which, every now and then, is innocuous enough to get you by.
MVT: The leather outfits. Well, I liked them, anyway.
Make or Break: The scene at the museum is the most distinctive one in the film, and displays what the movie should have trafficked in more. Plus, it has lots of the Girls in their leather costumes.