I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Satin Steel

tn_satinsteelSATIN STEEL is a 1994 Hong Kong cops ‘n martial arts movie that starts off as a bit of a LETHAL WEAPON rip-off, but with women. I wish the heroine was actually named Satin Steel, but instead her name is Jade (Jade Leung, BLACK CAT 1 and 2). Like Riggs, Jade is a maverick police detective with a death wish. And it opens with a similar (though smaller scale) undercover bust where she does something insane to get her collar (it involves a grenade).

She takes crazy risks because she’s depressed that her husband was shot to death (and fell out a high window!) by assassins trying to kill her. We learn this when she’s outside smoking and brooding to a bluesy soundtrack and she witnesses a wedding in progress. When her flashback ends she’s holding her gun to her head. Luckily she snaps out of it, realizes she has caused a scene and goes over to congratulate the newlyweds, but in my opinion you can’t really recover from a faux pas like that. That is just plain poor wedding etiquette, I don’t care what the 2nd amendment says.

Although Jade is a cop who gets her man, she’s obviously hard to deal with, so the boss takes a getting-rid-of-Chris-Tucker-in-RUSH-HOUR type glee in sending her to Singapore to investigate an international arms dealing ring. And something about the American mafia and diamonds and a guy that was involved in the World Trade Center bombing.

She partners with Inspector Ellen Cheng (Anita Lee, TIGER CAGE II), who’s not that much like Murtaugh because she doesn’t seem older or that much more uptight. But she’s in Singapore, where you can’t smoke or chew gum, and she’s afraid of mice. I guess it’s kind of Murtaugh-esque that she doesn’t approve of Jade hanging a guy upside down from the top of a building to get information. Jade assumes Ellen is a drag and tries to ditch her as a partner until she sees her high tech arsenal and her familiarity with it.

mp_satinsteelEllen has a dorky boyfriend (Kenneth Chan, MY DATE WITH A VAMPIRE 1 and 2). He introduces himself as John Paul Belmondo. I don’t know if he’s joking or what. He’s overly clingy, always whining about her job being too dangerous and trying to get her to avoid work because of plans he has with her. That’s not based on LETHAL WEAPON or Mrs. Murtaugh, but it’s a nice gender reversal from the cop movie trope of the wife who can’t take much more of this, the one who loves him – she always will – but she’s taking the kids and going to her mom’s house. That standard character is actually much more sympathetic than John Paul, who makes his reasonable concerns seem obnoxious. Jade immediately hates him.

I seem to have accidentally deleted my screengrab of her holding a gun to his head in the middle of the airport, so you’ll have to take my word for it. But later, when she witnesses him arguing with Ellen, she intervenes by flicking a live cockroach into his open mouth!

Not only does she hate him because he sucks, but she’s always hearing Ellen gettin some lovin in the other room. Luckily she meets a much more tolerable man, Ken (Russell Wong, NEW JACK CITY, THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR). The bad news is that he’s a sell-out lawyer who’s working for the bad guy. The good news is that convincing a guy to change his ways and then having to shoot your way out together and run from masked primitives in the forest is a good date idea. There’s a whole forbidden love story, with him having to hide her and pretend that the perfume they smell is his cologne and stuff like that. (I’m not sure why him being with a lady gives away that she’s a cop, but they seem to know what they’re doing.)

We know from the Bill Clinton photo in the FBI office that this is the ’90s, but there’s a very ’80s Hollywood touch in the rockin keyboard and guitar theme and the exercise montage that helps establish Jade’s toughness. The story and occasional comic relief are probly comparable to a lower level Hollywood cop movie not of LETHAL WEAPON quality. However, it more than makes up for it with lots of crazy action. In American cop movies people don’t do triple flips and run up trees and swing on vines, which is to their detriment. Early on there’s a big fight in an outdoor market, which is always fun, but it was a crazy turn in a car chase scene about half an hour in that made me realize this was a special movie. A guy in the car they’re pursuing reaches out the window and karate chops a tree. The tree falls into the road, they swerve and fly off a cliff, and they jump out of their car and fall through a bunch of branches until they catch themselves high up in the trees. A police helicopter finds them immediately, but just waves at them like it’s funny that this happened to them.

In one of the fights there’s a trick I can’t remember seeing before: a guy runs and jumps out of frame, and then a dummy drops down in the same shot, to make it look like he jumped really far. It’s the old version of that trick invented in BLADE II where Wesley Snipes jumps and is replaced in the air by a CGI stunt double.

There is a horse chase. Is it just me, though, or are they riding tiny ponies in some of these shots?

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Another great scene is when Ellen is ambushed by gunmen at a train station. She blocks bullets with her suitcase, then slides around on it like it’s a skateboard, kicks chairs at guys, defies gravity, reveals where she keeps her gun.

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I mean this seriously: why aren’t there more modern American action movies that have the balls to do cartoonish action with a straight face? I guess you could say JOHN WICK kinda does it, which is part of why the world loves JOHN WICK. But I think we could use more. Is it naive to believe that there are people in this world who know how to have fun, and are smart enough to enjoy a motorcycle/helicopter run-in like in STONE COLD, or a motorcycle balancing shoot out like in HARD TARGET, or a guy chopping down a tree during a car chase like in this, even though yes, you got it, you really figured it out there genius, that that was not a realistic thing that happened there? I feel like maybe THE TRANSPORTER movies (thanks in part to Hong Kong’s Corey Yuen) were the last really popular ones to do it without winking, and that’s a god damn shame.

In the end Jade duels a guy on top of a mountain, and this is the weirdest part, because I didn’t really pick up earlier that his white glove was supposed to be a robot hand. That’s why it had the power to punch a large box full of guns and make it fly through the air and then break open. (I thought that’s just what you can do in this type of movie.) But during this fight I noticed the mechanical sound effects and then he takes off the glove and there’s some kind of metal there. Huh. Didn’t figure this for a robot hand kind of movie. But I always enjoy a good robot hand.

Director Siu-Hung Leung, aka Tony Leung, is a martial artist in movies going back to the ’70s and as recently as IP MAN 3. He was stunt choreographer for TWIN DRAGONS and action choreographer for IP MAN. He’s also had a hand in some western martial arts films, having directed SUPERFIGHTS and BLOODMOON, and choreographed NO RETREAT, NO SURRENDER 3 and THE KING OF THE KICKBOXERS.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Wednesday, May 17th, 2017 at 9:20 am and is filed under Action, Martial Arts, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

17 Responses to “Satin Steel”

  1. This was a fun one I from back-in-the-day. I remember back then when I would seemingly watch anything. Especially Hong Kong action movies. I miss those days, I’m old and way too picky I feel anymore.

    I also miss the days of crazy-awesome action. Back when we’d buy a ticket or rent a VHS of an action and go into it willing to accept whatever crazy shit they’d throw at us. That one asshole everyone knew or knew of would make snarky comments about how “Actually you can’t blocks bullets with a suitcase, then slide around on it like it’s a skateboard, kick chairs at guys, defy gravity, and then reveal where you keeps your gun!” Everyone would call him an asshole and/or just eye-roll at his written review in the local newspaper and move on. Somehow that guy semi-won and gave birth to action where you can’t see shit and/or action heroes or their side kicks turning to the camera and telling us how stupid everything we just paid to watch is.

    Anyways, I second the Satin Steel recommendation.

  2. Also Vern, wouldn’t you say that the FAST & FURIOUSes also qualify for showing awesome shit without feeling the need to apologize for it?

  3. Or TORQUE?

  4. Bloodmoon and King of the Kickboxers are both TREMENDOUS movies. Vern, you HAVE to review Tony Leung’s American directing/choreography movies.

  5. “In one of the fights there’s a trick I can’t remember seeing before: a guy runs and jumps out of frame, and then a dummy drops down in the same shot, to make it look like he jumped really far. It’s the old version of that trick invented in BLADE II where Wesley Snipes jumps and is replaced in the air by a CGI stunt double.”

    This is a variation on the classic stuntman’s trick, The Texas Switch. Sam Raimi did it all the time. The classic Texas Switch is to have the stuntman land behind something, and then immediately have the actual actor pop out from the same place, giving the illusion that he performed the stunt himself. (This was parodied in the bar fight in AIRPLANE!, where you can see Robert Hayes waiting to do the switch while the stuntman was still in frame.) It can also be done with a dummy and/or multiple stunt performers. What defines the Texas Switch is that it’s done in one shot with no cutaways. That long one-take fight in the first season of DAREDEVIL used at least two Texas Switches, as did a shot in DOD SNO 2 where one stuntman was thrown through the ceiling, another came crashing back through in a different spot and rolled down some stairs out of frame, and then the actor popped up from below the edge of the screen. If you want to do as much in-camera as possible, the Texas Switch is a great and economic way to do it.

    I love the Texas Switch, even when it’s imperfectly done. It takes a lot of ingenuity and moxie to pull off, especially in this day and age when it’s easier to composite different elements into one shot.

  6. I apologize if I just man-splained the Texas Switch to a bunch of people who already knew about it. I just like talking about the Texas Switch.

    It’s even fun to say. Try it. “The Texas Switch.” Puts a smile right on your face, don’t it?

  7. Crushinator Jones

    May 17th, 2017 at 3:18 pm

    I knew about the trick but I didn’t know the name or the history.

    It’s an esoteric bit of knowledge and I’m happy you shared it.

  8. You guys are great. I was worried a review of an obscurity like this would be dead on arrival, but Geoffrey has seen it, Sternshein has good recommendations and Majestyk has passion for stunt technique. I love it.

    Yes, the FAST AND FURIOUS sequels do fall somewhere in this realm. Good point.

    I don’t know what DOD SNO 2 is though.

  9. CrustaceanLove

    May 17th, 2017 at 6:21 pm

    I have seen both BLACK CAT movies but I have not seen this one. Will have to check it out, if I can find it. When she kicks the chair, does it stay upright and slide along the floor with a scraping sound, tripping a guy over? Love that move.

    I think the time is right for a revival of 80s/90s style HK action. Between F&F (which qualifies, even if it’s more spectacle/CG driven) and the JOHN WICKs and RAIDs, people obviously have a taste for quality action.

    Vern: DOD SNO 2 (aka DEAD SNOW: DEAD VS RED) is the sequel to Norweigan Nazi-zombie horror-comedy DEAD SNOW. If I had to guess I’d say it’s the kind of derivative, winking horror-comedy that you would not appreciate. I thought it was okay.

  10. Jean-Paul Belmondo was the French actor who starred in Godard’s BREATHLESS. But I’m sure you all knew that.

  11. CrustaceanLove

    May 17th, 2017 at 6:32 pm

    I often see youtube clips of Bollywood action films (e.g. SINGHAM (2011)) that have crazy/ridiculous action. I’m tempted to check them out, but the Bollywood movies I have seen tend to be stuffed with about fifteen hours of musical numbers, bad comedy, romance subplots, and other things I’m not super interested in sitting through.

  12. Oh my, I like the screengrab where we can she her panties.

  13. CrustaceanLove, I too want to see if the action movies are as innovative as other asian films yet the run time always gives me pause.

  14. You and everyone else owe yourself to watch SINGHAM.

  15. Curt – right, but is he jokingly calling himself Jean-Paul Belmondo, or is that supposed to really be the character’s name, or is it a mistranslation, or what?

  16. Jareth Cutestory

    May 21st, 2017 at 7:29 am

    Siu-Hung Leung, aka Tony Leung, not to be confused with Tony Ka Fai Leung, aka Tony Leung, or Tony Leung Chiu-wai, aka Tony Leung.

    In conclusion, the world has an enormous capacity for ass-kicking Tony Leungs.

  17. I remember in grad school thinking I’d found some common ground with this girl because she said she really liked Tony Leung. I assumed she meant the one from HARD BOILED. She meant the one from THE LOVER. It got confusing.

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