Wo Ping Films, 1994, Color, 93 mins.- Tai Seng DVD

Scholar Wong: “She dresses like a man but she is still impressive.”

True enough, when you’re talking about Asian action star Michelle Yeoh, who can kick butt with the best of ‘em. If you were intrigued by Yeoh’s performance in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” and would like to see her in another action-laced period piece, this film is fairly easy to get ahold of. But if you’re unfamiliar with Chinese films, I’ve got to warn you- the culture shock is pronounced. You must be prepared for cheesy production values, a meandering plot, childish and cruel humor, and performances broad enough to carry six lanes of traffic. But if you can get past all that, you’ll get a good dose of the wild, undercranked, acrobatic, wire-rigged style of master action choreographer and director Yuen Wo Ping.

Best known in the West for his work on “Crouching Tiger” and “The Matrix,” he gives Yeoh a real workout here, as she makes use of fists, feet, swords, poles, soybeans, a huge spear, and even a fireball aimed at the crotch of one of her opponents! That those opponents are a bunch of male chauvinist pigs determined to put her in her place only adds to the fun.

The plot, such as it is, involves Yeoh- whose fighting skills have made her a spinster- and her friends tangling with some local bandits, with a lot of time out for various romantic complications. In the end, it all comes down to a battle between Yeoh and the bandit leader, who could be the one guy in China able to kick her butt. The action is a blast to watch- just remember that getting through the rest of the movie can be a bit of a chore.


Warner Bros., 1954, B&W, 92 mins.- Warners DVD

Edmund Gwenn: “No, we haven’t seen the end of them. We’ve only had a close view of the beginning of what may be the end of us.”

Thank goodness for the objective scientific viewpoint- tempered, of course, with wry understatement. That mixture of portentousness leavened with humor is characteristic of this film as a whole, and is a prime factor in creating its good, old-fashioned fun. New Mexico Cop James Whitmore has a mystery on his hands, what with a couple of isolated structures ripped open, some people killed or missing.....and to top it off, a bunch of missing sugar(!).

Soon FBI man James Arness and scientist Gwenn have joined the investigation, the latter accompanied by his attractive daughter, who despite her smarts has no problem tromping around in the desert in a tailored suitcoat, skirt and high heels (well, it was the Fifties). It doesn’t take long for the troublemakers to rear their antennae-waving heads- yes, that darned radioactivity from the first A-Bomb test has created humongous mutated ants! Fortunately, while Gwenn may be a little absent-minded, he’s also a knowledgeable exterminator. But some new queens escape from the nest, and the race is on to find “Them” before they ring the dinner bell on mankind.

Given the subject matter, this picture is surprisingly well-made and effective. It’s campy, of course, but that’s part of the appeal- right down to the hokey mechanical ants. So pop this disc in and have your own “Creature Feature” matinee! Extras are minimal but include some behind-the-scenes footage.

Columbia,1940, B&W, 92 mins.- Columbia Classics DVD

Rosalind Russel: “I am fond of you, you know. I often wish you weren’t such a stinker.”

Ace newspaper reporter Russel has returned to Chicago to inform her old editor- and ex-husband- Cary Grant, that she is going to remarry and settle down to a nice, homespun life away from the crazy news business. But Grant has other ideas- he immediately starts scheming to keep her around, and before long he’s convinced her to stay just long enough to cover an important story. Before the night is out, Russel’s fiancee will wind up in jail, a poor wretch who is scheduled to hang in the morning will try to escape, corrupt and venal politicians will be exposed, and all manner of chicanery will take place. Oh, and the characters will exchange some of the fastest, funniest dialogue ever filmed.

Director Howard Hawks’ idea to put a screwball spin on the classic newspaper tale “The Front Page,” changing the sex of one of the main characters, pays off in spades. You could probably write a doctoral dissertation on the flip-flop of late-1930s gender roles in this film.
Russel is a woman who can make her way in the man’s world of the newspaper racket, and the conflict between her desire for a “Normal” life and the excitement of matching wits with Grant and the others in that world drives the story. It’s obvious that Russel and Grant are a perfect match, for better or worse, and her fiancee- the decent but hardly exciting Ralph Bellamy- is out of his league in their company. How it all shakes out is a delight to watch, especially on this restored disc. Extras include audio commentary and some featurettes.


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© Melt Magazine 2002