Michelle Yeoh- Midnight at the Coolidge

image, drunkenfist.com michelle yeoh crouching tigerApparently trying to butter me up by giving me something fun to write about; or maybe just taking advantage of all the good things being said about Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the good people over at the Coolidge are putting together a fun couple of months in their midnight movie slot. First off the blocks is four weekends featuring the ultimate in martial arts actresses, and the star of Crouching Tiger… Michelle Yeoh. Putting it simply, Michelle Yeoh is a phenomenon. She can act, she’s beautiful, she carries herself with immense grace and she’s one of the ten best screen fighters ever.

With that in mind, I ask, is there anything else one needs in this world?

Heroic Trio

Directed by Johnny To. Featuring Michelle Yeoh. Maggie Cheung, Anita Mui, Damian Lau, Anthony Wong.

It’s fitting that they kick off a month of Michelle Yeoh and two months of Hong Kong films with this one. Heroic Trio is practically required viewing for people getting into the wonderful world of Hong Kong cinema. If they sold HK movie starter kits this one would without a doubt be in it. Why? Well, it introduces the concept of butt-kicking female leads, features three of the circle’s leading ladies (Yeoh, Cheung and Mui are all superstars over there) and is filled oodles of wild, vibrant, almost stereotypical “Hong Kong style” action.

It’s been described by more than one person as the finest example of the comic book style come to life. I can’t say I disagree.

Wing Chun

Directed by Yuen Wo-Ping. Featuring Michelle Yeoh, Donnie Yen, Waise Lee.

I reviewed this one once before. My opinion hasn’t changed as I haven’t seen the film again so I’ll just spit this one back up

(From Shovel #16)

“With Yuen Wo-Ping, Donnie Yen Ji-Dan and Michelle Yeoh this one could’ve been better. Don’t get me wrong, it’s pretty entertaining and it’s got plenty of high quality thrills, it’s just got a few problems that hold the film back. The first is Michelle Yeoh’s portrayal of Yim Wing-Chun (the woman who lent her name to the martial art style that Bruce Lee eventually made famous). Yeoh, is… how shall I put this? Stiff as a board throughout the film. She was supposed to be playing it close to vest (she’s meant to be a pretty serious character), but she took it a little too far. Another problem I had was the way Donnie is used in this one. With a screen fighter the caliber of Donnie Yen (in case you’ve just crawled out from under a rock he’s one of the top 10 screen fighters of all-time) you expect to see the guy let loose a little. He didn’t. There are a few moments where he really lets fly (a marvelous kicking combination near the end of the film comes to mind), but for the most part he keeps it under wraps. It’s not a fatal flaw, it’s just a little bit of a let down. All in all, a film to check out. Just don’t expect a classic. “

image, drunkenfist.com, donnie yen michelle yeohI guess I should also point out that Donnie Yen is from Boston and his mother (Bow Sim Mark) has a studio just a fairway wood and short iron away from the Dig office. This is the local boy makes good angle.

Butterfly & Sword

Director Michael Mak. Featuring Michelle Yeoh, Tony Leung Chiu- Wai, Joey Wong, Donnie Yen.

By itself, an excellent example of wire-fu, Butterfly and Sword is also Yeoh’s best acting performance in this particular series. Here she’s given a little room to be human and show a little depth. She handles the chance with style.

The film itself is served just the way I like it, a tasty melange of romance, intrigue, extremely creative action (provided by Cheung Siu-Tung), and lush production design. It’s a great example of why I’ve spent the past ten or so years hunting down Hong Kong movies like an addict.

Butterfly and Sword also offers me an excuse to present a link to an article I dig, Peter Coe’s, “Are You Down With The Gang Of Fatty?” The reference to the “Gang of Fatty” comes from a flashback in this film that shows Yeoh, Leung and Yen’s characters as children. It basically explains the bond they share as adults. Coe takes this tiny, but very cool scene and spins it into a pretty neat article about, well… the Gang of Fatty. I can’t really explain the piece any better than that without spoilers. You’ll just have to read it.

Holy Weapon

Directed by Wong Jing. Featuring Michelle Yeoh, Maggie Cheung, Sandra Ng.

Straight up brilliant. They definitely saved the best for last picking this “what the fuck?!?!” inducing classic to finish out the series. Unless you’re already a fan of the slightly sleazy, super-successful and always fun Wong Jing, Holy Weapon is probably unlike anything you’ve ever seen. This is the film Tsui Hark would make if he were drunk, injected with a cocktail of Farrelly Brothers DNA and LSD and forced at gunpoint to make the most fucked up movie he could think of without the aid of a screenplay. Frenetic, funny as hell, action packed and more than a little insane, Holy Weapon cracks you across the face like an argyle sock full of Jello. Not sure what to make of that last simile? Good, then it describes the movie perfectly.

The scenario is too ridiculous and convoluted to precis and like many of Wong’s films the film’s genre is even hard to pin down. My best guess would be to describe it as a wire-fu romantic action gross-out-comedy sex farce.

It’s got a great cast. As you’d expect from two of Hong Kong’s finest, Yeoh and Cheung turn in some good work. Also, Sandra Ng is hilarious as one of three (3!) comically gender-bending characters, Dicky Cheung does well as another and, last but not least, my man Ng Man-Tat goes to town in this film playing “The Ghost Doctor”, a mad scientist type with a white mane that would make Don King cry with envy. The Ghost Doctor is a lunatic even in the context of the film. Considering the antics of the rest of the cast that’s something of an accomplishment.

If you see one film in this series, this has got to be it.

This article was originally published in Boston's Weekly Dig (digBoston) in 2001.