Director: Wilson Chin
Cast: Eliza Sam, Joyce Cheng, Jeana Ho, Chris Tong, Cathryn Lee, Mandy Ho, Jacky Cai, Anita Chui, Philip Ng, Evergreen Mak, Jacqueline Chong, Calinda Chan, Terence Chui, Edward Ma, Coco Yuen, Toshika Lau, Hidy Yu, Jenvine Yu, Jade Leung, Chin Kar-Lok
Running Time: 105 min.
By Paul Bramhall
If there was an award for a re-make that nobody was asking for, then you have a prime candidate with Special Female Force. A remake of the 1986 Hong Kong action comedy The Inspector Wears Skirts, the original was not only made at a time when grammatically challenged titles were the norm (for those wondering, it’s not about an inspector who enjoys wearing several skirts at once), but also when even the most light hearted productions could be expected to deliver some killer action. Such was the case with The Inspector Wears Skirts. While primarily a comedy, proceedings are book ended by a pair of fantastic action sequences, choreographed by Jackie Chan’s stunt team, and performed by such femme fatale’s as Sibelle Hu, Cynthia Rothrock, and Kara Hui. There would go on to be 3 sequels, the last of which saw the series morphing itself into the Girls with Guns genre, delivering the rare sight of GwG luminaries Cynthia Khan and Moon Lee sharing the screen together.
The series was arguably a product of its time, and any remake should raise the question of what female talent of the current era could fit the bill in today’s Mainland friendly climate. Personally, I was hoping to see the likes of Jiang Lu-Xia from Coweb, and perhaps Zhang Lan-Xin from CZ12, stepping into the shoes of Sibelle Hu and Kara Hui, and could even have taken Amy Johnston in Cynthia Rothrock’s role. After starring in Lady Bloodfight and Female Fight Club, her specialty for taking parts in gender specific movie titles makes Special Female Force the perfect fit. Sadly though this is not the case, and while The Inspector Wears Skirts was always about delivering both action talent and eye candy, director Wilson Chin seems content with only aiming for the latter.
That’s not to say that Special Female Force is a complete write-off, and indeed the opening sequence harks bark, all be it in a rather glossy and sterile fashion, to the era when HK action movies didn’t think twice about offing all of your favorite characters in a split second. Taking place in Thailand 20 years ago, the Special Female Force of the day are tracking some evil guy called ‘The President’ in a luxurious resort. However, as expected, things go wrong and the mission becomes compromised. Soon The President’s bodyguard, played by action director (although not for this movie) and stuntman Chan Chun-Fung, is slicing and dicing his way through the ladies, cutting the throats and wrists with merciless abandon of our bikini clad heroes. Only one manages to survive, played by Stephy Tang, who becomes a trainer for the new recruits in the present day.
The good news for Girls with Guns fans, is that 20 years later the character is now played by Jade Leung. While Leung arrived on the scene a little too late, debuting in 1991 with Black Cat just as the genre was starting to fade away, I’ve always had a soft spot for her action movies like Fox Hunter and Satin Steel, so it’s nice to see her back in the genre. Now in the role of the head madam, in a way it brings her career full circle. It’s also a pleasure to hear the famous line “Yes, madam!” being spoken in a Hong Kong movie once more. It’s a line that, despite its shortness, is sure to bring a feeling of nostalgia for those 80’s HK action flicks.
What isn’t made very clear though, is exactly why the new Special Female Force have been drafted. The script seems content to simply provide a group of misfits who, much like the original, will need to train to become a part of the team, set aside their differences, bond etc. etc. But what exactly they’re doing it for is never clearly conveyed. Instead, we’ll just assume that thanks to the opening, somewhere along the way The President is going to show up again, and Leung will get a chance to take her revenge from 20 years earlier. But before any of that though, she’ll have to get the new recruits into shape, and for added melodrama, one of them is the daughter of a murdered member from the original group, who naturally blames sole survivor Leung for her mother’s death. Will they be able to reconcile such a heartbreaking revelation? Well, yes, of course they will.
In lieu of an actual plot (and essentially, a reason to exist), Special Female Force focuses on the girls, who are split into four groups, competing against each other to prove their worth. Naturally, we follow Group D, the one that the misfits get assigned to. Comprising of 8 members in total, each is solely there to play a stereotype, from the chubby comedy relief (Joyce Cheng), to the busty beauty queen (Anita Chui). In all fairness, while aiming for the lowest common denominator, the comedic aspects do sometimes hit the mark. Mandy Ho in particular, who plays a tomboyish lesbian (and notably is also the only actress with real martial arts training), makes numerous amusing attempts to hit on the others, with less than successful results.
The drama on the other hand is a complete non-starter, and frequently becomes more laughable than the intentional comedy. By the time the girls reach breaking point with their frequent bickering, we’re treated to a scene in the rain in which one confesses they’re a lovechild, the other confesses they’re an orphan, and so it goes on. Apparently opening up about their rocky beginnings in life is enough to bring them together, however Special Female Force completely falls apart whenever it decides to take itself seriously. When it’s time for such line as – “Girlfriends are for loving, not abusing” – to be delivered completely poker faced, it’s easy to feel that the whopping 5 scriptwriters who contributed to Special Female Force were perhaps each given a different plot synopsis.
That of course leaves us with the action, which is the one reason why the original The Inspector Wears Skirts movies are remembered so fondly by many Hong Kong movie fans. Here the action sequences are credited to the Chin Kar-Lok Action Team (Kar-Lok also has an entertaining cameo as a retired gangster) and Wong Chi-Wai, who also takes on a role as a martial arts instructor, and played Ip Man in Bruce Lee, My Brother. Unfortunately, it seems the mission to get the ladies of Special Female Force looking like competent screen fighters was a bridge too far, as with the exception of the previously mentioned Mandy Ho, every fight scene looks like a slow paced rehearsal. There’s a distinct impression that Kar-Lok and Chi-Wai had their work cut out for them, so the blame can’t entirely be placed on their shoulders, as watching the fights it’s clear there’s some nice choreography in there, it’s just the performers executing it aren’t up to the task.
Interestingly, while not a co-production, there appears to definitely be some Malaysian money in Special Female Force. Cast members Jacqueline Tong, Cathryn Lee Yuan-Ling, Chris Tung Bing-Yuk, Jenvine Ong, and Aaron Aziz all hail from Michelle Yeoh’s home country, and the finale relocates itself to the Malay capital. While the names may not be familiar, it’s worth nothing that Aaron Aziz has headlined a couple of passable Malaysian action flicks, in the form of 2011’s KL Gangster, and its sequel in 2013. Both are obviously influenced by the Donnie Yen and Wilson Yip collaborations Sha Po Lang and Flash Point, and show Aziz displaying some fine action chops. Here though his role, while significant, barely sees him onscreen for more than a few minutes, with his action talents hidden behind the choppy editing. However in a movie which features Philip Ng and Chin Kar-Lok also in non-action roles, it perhaps shouldn’t be a surprise.
With the visual appeal of a swimsuit catalogue, lacklustre action, and comedy as flat as – well, I won’t go there – with Special Female Force you get the distinct impression director Chin thought that filling the screen with attractive young women was enough to constitute a movie. Having made the same mistake three times already with the Lan Kwai Fong trilogy, it’s most likely a sign that he’s not going to see the error of his ways any time soon. The general consensus is that The Inspector Wears Skirts movies got gradually worse as they progressed, so in that regard, if you want to look at Special Female Force as a continuation of the series, the good news is that it’s following tradition. The bad news is, that would also make it the fifth instalment, and if we follow the same logic, it could well mean that for some, Special Female Force may be classed as unwatchable.
Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 4.5/10