Director: Tony Liu Chun-Ku
Producer: Chui Fat
Cast: Moon Lee, Yukari Oshima, Sibelle Hu, Ben Lam Kwok Bun, Eddie Ko, Hsu Hsia, Lee Ho Kwan
Running Time: 102 min.
By Paul Bramhall
The years spanning 1991 – 1993 burned the brightest for the Girls with Guns genre, a 3-year period in which an almost countless number of butt kicking femme fatales graced the screen. Names like Moon Lee, Yukari Oshima, Cynthia Khan, Sibelle Hu, and Michiko Nishiwaki became almost inseparable from the genre, one which could be argued wouldn’t exist without them. While the wave of hard hitting ladies had gained popularity with entries like Yes, Madam! and In the Line of Duty III from the previous decade, there was something in the air during the early 90’s that saw the genre explode.
One of the best things to come out of this era was the pairing of Moon Lee and Yukari Oshima. A Chinese ballerina and a Japanese action actress, the pair first appeared onscreen together as heroine and villain in the 1986 classic Iron Angels. The deadly duo would go on to co-star in a further 8 movies together, although interestingly their sophomore pairing wouldn’t come until a whole 5 years later, with all 8 of the subsequent features they’d appear in being made between 1991 – 1993. Their second time to grace the screen as a duo saw them on the same side, in the form of 1991’s Dreaming the Reality, helmed by director Tony Liu Chun-Ku.
One of the most consistent directors working in the genre, Chun-ku helmed everything from early classics such as Hell’s Windstaff and Tiger Over Wall, to zany 80’s Shaw Brothers efforts like the Bastard Swordsman flicks and Secret Service of the Imperial Court. By the time it was the 90’s, he’d become somewhat of a Girls with Guns aficionado, and sat in the director’s chair for half of the 8 Moon Lee and Yukari Oshima pairings from the period. In addition to Lee and Oshima, Dreaming the Reality also throws Sibelle Hu into the mix, an actress who came to embody the Girls with Guns genre, ever since she appeared as the commanding sergeant in 1988’s The Inspector Wears Skirts.
All three of the actresses, and director, would constantly be within each other’s orbits in the late 80’s/early 90’s. Both Sibelle Hu and Moon Lee starred in Chun-Ku’s Devil Hunters in 1989, in which Hu suffered serious burn injuries, when an explosion went off early before she could jump out of a window. In Dreaming the Reality you can see the scars she suffered on her hand, a reminder of just how dangerous stuntwork can be. The trio of ladies also featured in Chen-Ku’s The Big Deal and Angel Terminators 2.
Dreaming the Reality plays out as two separate storylines for almost half the runtime, each of which has a tone that varies wildly from the other, somewhat to the detriment of the production. The main storyline concerns Lee and Oshima as a pair of orphans, who have been raised as assassins by Eddie Ko, along with another orphan played by Anthony Cho. When a cop who’s been using Ko’s services reveals that his dealings have been exposed, and an Interpol agent is enroute to Hong Kong with a floppy disk containing all their transactions, Ko sends Lee and Oshima to intercept the disk and kill the agent, who’s transferring in Thailand.
Meanwhile, in Thailand, Hu plays a beer guzzling cigarette smoking bar owner (who naturally happens to be an ex-cop). Kind of a female prototype for Chow Yun Fat’s Tequila character in Hard Boiled if you will, which would come a year later. Hu has a brother played by Ben Lam, a talented martial artist who never quite hit it big the way he should of, who wants to be a Thai boxer. When Lam’s ambitions lead him to fall under the management of a Triad, played by Hsu Hsia (director of the likes of Kid from Kwangtung and Crystal Hunt), his change of heart to no longer fight doesn’t go down too well, and the usual chaos ensues.
For those familiar with the genre, it should come as no surprise that proceedings relocate to Thailand. Despite its popularity, the Girls with Guns flicks that populated the early 90’s landscape all came with cheap and cheerful budgets, and Thailand became a popular location that allowed the crew to get more bang for their buck, usually in a literal sense. Unfortunately the Thai setting also tended to result in one of two scenarios used to pad out the time – either extended travelogue sequences, or overly long Muay Thai matches.
Admittedly, the Lee/Oshima vehicle Kickboxers Tears also falls into the latter category, despite not having a Thai setting, however in Dreaming the Reality it’s particularly prevalent. Lam’s main match goes on for a whopping 4 rounds, which is about 2 too many. In many ways Thai kickboxing matches were to HK cinema in the early 90’s, what MMA is to modern day action flicks. Yes when it’s the real deal they’re pretty exciting to see, but as choreographed bouts, regardless of how authentic the techniques may be, they don’t lend themselves well to screen fighting, and are usually pretty dull to watch.
Thankfully the main plot of Lee and Oshima as the pair of assassins compensates for the slightly grating pairing of Sibelle Hu and Ben Lam as the quarrelling siblings. The movie kicks off with the characters still as children, learning to shoot despite their young age. Hilariously, the child version of Cho’s character then turns up and shoots the girls rabbit, which sends it flying into the air like a spring-loaded rocket bunny. It’s refreshing to see the deadly duo in such atypical roles, and there’s something undeniably cool about their Mark Gor inspired wardrobe and slow motion strutting, as they riddle their surroundings (and targets) with bullets. Naturally, a series of brief but hard hitting scuffles are scattered through the runtime, including a botched restaurant hit that has Lee and Oshima showing off their physical prowess, and a training sequence in which they face off against each other.
There’s an interesting subtext going on in the relationship between the pair, with Lee cast as the distinctly feminine, more sensitive femme fatale, and Oshima as the shorthaired straight talking tomboy. It’s never directly stated they’re in a relationship (it’s an early 90’s Girls with Guns flick after all, not The Handmaiden), however they sleep in the same bed, and when Lee states she wants to leave the world of bloodshed behind later on, Oshima’s reaction is one of a scorned lover. The influence of Dreaming the Reality’s blurred relationship dynamics can be seen in similar movies, such as Ching Siu-Tung’s Naked Weapon, however unlike Siu-Tung’s 2002 feature, don’t expect any shower scenes here.
It’s during the attempt to intercept the agent with the floppy disk in Bangkok that Dreaming the Reality picks up its pace. It’s a suitably cool scene, that features such brutality as Lee shooting off the arm of the agent who the briefcase is handcuffed too (and subsequently has Oshima running around with said briefcase, complete with the dangling limb). It’s during the escape on motorbikes that Lee is knocked down, and finds herself washed up on a riverbank with memory loss. She stumbles across Hu and Lam, mercifully bringing the plot threads together at just short of an hour, and they take her in as a worker at the bar Hu runs. Despite Lee suffering from dream sequences that see her on the run from the Thai police (hence the movie’s title), she still finds herself falling for Lam’s aspiring boxer.
As is par for the course for these movies, her memory does eventually come back, just in time for everything to go to hell. Action choreographers Lung Sang and Fan Chin-Hung, who also worked together on the likes of Fire Phoenix and Holy Virgin Versus the Evil Dead, construct a fitting finale for the genre, providing plenty of Girls with Guns. Lee and Eddie Ko get a satisfyingly impact heavy throwdown against each other, that eventually spills over into an area filled with explosive trip wires, adding a significant sense of tension to their exchange. Despite the strength of the action though, it’s impossible to shake the feeling that the extended sequences with Hu and Lam’s bickering siblings, knock Dreaming the Reality down a few notches from its full potential. Proof that a dream cast doesn’t necessarily mean a dream movie, for those that have already exhausted the best that the Girls with Guns genre has to offer, Dreaming the Reality is definitely worth a look.
Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 6/10