AKA: Hunting Fox
Director: Stephen Tung Wai
Producer: Joe Cheung, Benny Kong
Cast: Jade Leung, Jordan Chan, Yu Rong Guang, Ching Fung, Guy Lai Ying Chau, Ng Git Keung, Roger Lee Yue Ling
Running Time: 92 min.
By Paul Bramhall
Fox Hunter was the second of only 4 movies that legendary Hong Kong action choreographer Stephen Tung Wei would direct, as well as taking on action duties. To his credit, with each movie he did something a little different – his 1990 production Magic Cop gave us Lam Ching Ying on ghost busting duties, but with the twist of it taking place in modern day Hong Kong. In 1998 he directed The Hitman, which was the first movie to feature Jet Li’s real voice, as well as being the last time Li would work in HK before attempting to break the US market. Then in 2001 he stepped into the director’s chair for the final time with Extreme Challenge, which revolved around a fighting tournament, and gave us an early glimpse at the talent of a certain Scott Adkins.
With Fox Hunter, at first glance it looks to be another low budget ‘Girls with Guns’ flick, with Jade Leung in the lead role. Leung was a unique case amongst the familiar faces of the genre. Actresses like Moon Lee and Cynthia Khan had dance backgrounds, which allowed them to adapt to the HK style of fight choreography, Yukari Oshima had a martial arts background, as well as being mentored by Mark Houghton, and Michiko Nishiwaki had a strong presence thanks to her body building regime. Leung on the other hand was a fashion model, plucked from the industry in 1991 to star in Black Cat – a loose remake of Luc Besson’s Nikita – she went on to win the Best Newcomer Award at the 11th Hong Kong Film Awards (and star in several crappy sequels).
Leung was not an obvious choice to be molded into the next female action star, especially in a genre that was already overcrowded, however she managed to leave her mark in the few years that she was active. While she didn’t have the raw physical talent that her peers possessed, Leung brought something different to the table. For a start she was a good actress, and she also didn’t fit the typical image of the fighting femme – her tall figure and flawless complexion never leaving any doubt as to why she was previously a model. But Leung also had something else, and that something could most closely be described as a reckless abandon. She may not have been able to fight, but in her movies she regularly shows her willingness to get thrown around, take falls from high places, and do her own high risk stunts. She doesn’t look too bad brandishing a machine gun either.
Fox Hunter is arguably Leung’s best movie as it combines her vulnerability, with the willingness to be thrown into the thick of things, to great effect. Playing a cop, in a tightly edited opening scene she enters a karaoke bar undercover as a hostess, in an attempt to take down a gangster. The scene is juxtaposed with another one in which she’s told by her superiors at the police station that she’s failed the gun test for a third time, so won’t be able to get a promotion to detective. However she’s given a chance to be a part of an “off the books” operation to take down the gangster they’re after in the bar. The scenes cut back and forth, with Leung’s hesitation to take the position, edited with jumps back to her making contact with the gangster, building up a suitable level of tension.
The gangster, played by Ching Fung, is eventually captured, but ends up escaping and in an act of vengeance, kills Leung’s uncle and leaves her for dead. This acts as the trigger for the events that unfold during the rest of the move, with Leung kidnapping a low level pimp who runs the karaoke bar, played by Jordan Chan, and illegally entering the mainland on the tail of Fung.
It’s interesting how much the characters of Chan and Fung earmark the movie as a distinctively pre-1997 product of Hong Kong. With only a couple of years before the handover back to China, HK movies still portrayed the mainlanders as either criminals or country bumpkins. Here Chan may be running the karaoke bar, but it’s only because his parents are poor farmers back in China, and Fung is introduced as a Vietnam-Chinese. I’m unsure why but in HK movies of this era I’ve seen villains who are described as Vietnam-Chinese more than once, Yuen Wah’s character in Royal Warriors being another example which immediately springs to mind.
Yu Rong Guang also shows up as the head of the mainland cops, either lighting or already smoking a cigarette in every scene he appears in. However instead of coming across as ridiculous, Rong Guang makes his character the epitome of cool. At one point he even shoots a criminal between the eyes, then casually flicks a cigarette out of its pack and lights it up. In what’s rare for a HK movie, all characters are fairly fleshed out. Chan’s pimp is initially annoying in his constant attempts to escape from Leung, but as the movie progresses he ends up being a sympathetic character, at one point yelling to Leung that he doesn’t want her to pursue Fung as she’ll only end up dead. He could well be right, as Fung’s criminal isn’t just a ruthless gangster, he’s also very smart, constantly outwitting the cops, and has a penchant for using explosives as his main form of attack.
The use of explosives result in some great action scenes, particularly using grenades. In one scene Leung is left in a small room with one which is about to detonate. While I’m sure the grenade itself isn’t real, the explosion which goes off is very much the real thing, generating a massive fire ball in the confined space, while Leung flips a sofa on top of herself to be shielded from the blast. It’s the type of scene in which if one thing had gone wrong, she would have been severely burnt. In others action scenes Tung Wei gets to show off his directing skill alongside his action direction. The plot device of Leung and Chan being in peril together is used effectively throughout, such as in one scene which has Leung holding onto Chan to stop him falling from a window, only for Fung to appear in the doorway armed to his teeth. Left with the choice of holding onto Chan and being riddled with bullets, or diving out of the way and dropping him, these scenes provide a lot of tension along with the action spectacle which is taking place.
By the time the finale comes around, which sees Leung, Chan, and Rong Guang locked down in a crowded shopping mall with Fung threatening to blow the place up, there’s enough creative gunplay, smashed glass, and stunt work happening that it transcends the small budget the movie was made on. Fox Hunter could have been just another low budget throwaway ‘Girls with Guns’ flick, but thanks to the competent direction, strong characters, and frequent action scenes, instead it comes off as a tight little action thriller. Well worthy of a recommendation for those who think they’ve seen everything that 90’s HK action cinema has to offer.
Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 7/10