Revenge of Angel
Hong Kong 1990
Directed by Yeung Kuen.

Anyone seeing the title and expecting girls-with-guns action may be suprised to find that our heroine gives up the ghost before the opening credits. But she doesn't give it up entirely.

One of the most enduring icons of the opera stage is the woman warrior Mu Guiying. She appears in numerous operas. In operas which tell of her early career, such as Muke Mountain Redout, she wears red or pink armour. But in Women Generals of the Yang Family, she wears white armour, because she is in mourning for her husband, who has died in battle. It is a performance from this opera that opens Revenge of Angel.

Angel (Moon Lee) appears on stage as Mu Guiying, readying herself to go into battle for her country. But the performance is interrupted by Chan Ping and his gang. He demands Angel accompany him. In spite of the best efforts at negotiation of Brother Ma (Wu Ma), he insists and a fight erupts. Angel starts kicking serious ass, but the villains get the better of the opera players, and the entire theater burns to the ground. Most everyone is able to escape the blaze except Angel, who dies there after saving Brother Ma from the flames. The opera house, still ablaze, topples into the river. And this is all before the opening credits!

The next thing you know it's twenty years later. Brother Ma is no longer an actor, now he plays the drums for an opera troupe. The troupe arrives back at the same old town. A Mr. Dick Chan is the most important and highly respected man in town. He is the son of old Chan Ping. The opera troupe has the usual assortment of characters. There's Mr. Dragon, the arrogant, insufferable leading man. And Siu Yin Hong, the delicate leading lady. Brother Ma arranges for his nephew Siu Man to meet them in town. The troupe's owner, Uncle Kao, likes young Siu Man's looks and gives him a job as a bit player in the troupe. While he is training for his part in the opera, he meets Angel, who helps him excel. When he finds out she is a ghost, he doesn't care. Instead, he and Brother Ma agree to help her to get revenge on Chan Ping.

Ever since Angel died, her spirit must stay by the river. Apparently she didn't die by fire, but by drowning when the whole opera house collapsed in the water. Now she must remain by the river until someone else drowns, only then can she leave that spot and be reincarnated. Brother Ma and Siu Man assist Angel by purifying a route away from the spot of her death up to Chan Ping's house, away from the river, so she can kick the living shit out of him. But two Hell guardians catch up with her, and punish her for leaving the river. Finally they tell her she is going to reincarnate next Thursday, or if she blows that chance, go straight to hell (do not pass Go, do not collect $200).

Things just keep getting weirder from here. My wife kept on wandering in and out of the room as I was watching this film. It became more and more difficult to describe what was going on. "I thought she was dead," she says. "Yes, she is." Then later, "Where is she?" "Well, she's on a model boat, shrunk down to miniature size, and is fighting little wooden men who have come to life to kill her." You see what I mean? It didn't help that the quality of the film I was watching was so dark as to be all but impenetrable for the night scenes -- a severe liability when the movie is a ghost story.

Once Siu Man, Brother Ma, and opera actress Siu Yin Hong try to give Angel a pleasant cruise to her next life in a toy boat surrounded by lanterns, they return to the stage, where they perform a scene from Wu-Song Kills His Sister-in-Law. The scene they perform is early in the opera, when Wu-Song's sister-in-law makes advances on him. Ghost Angel returns, one last time, and there's nothing left for it but to forget about the play and mount an all out, climactic assault on Chen Ping, Dick Chen, and the evil Taoist priest they hired.

This film has a lot to offer, and in many ways I think it matches the entertainment value of some of its more popular siblings. Like The Spooky Bunch, Chinese Opera is combined with folk superstition and belief. But Revenge of Angel adds in a little ass kicking kung-fu. Like Dreadnaught, there is alot of festival activity going on to keep things constantly in motion. In Revenge of Angel, the opera troupe has arrived to perform for the birthday of the Goddess of the Sea. The Goddess helps our heroes out quite often through the film. And why shouldn't she? She's one of the most worshipped and prayed to deities in the Chinese territories. The Goddess of the Sea was orginally a young girl, Lin Mo Niang, who joined a search party to find her father and elder brother who were lost at sea in a storm. After her death, many fishermen reported seeing her dressed in red whenever there was a bad storm. She became the Goddess of fishermen and sailors. As the years passed, her stature grew and emperors of different dynasties bestowed postumous titles on her, so that she became the Heavenly Empress. Her worship here is doubly appropriate, because not only is she the Goddess of the Sea and therefore would have a special stake in those who drowned, but also because she is associated with the Buddhist Kuan Yin, the goddess of mercy. When Angel shows Chan Ping mercy when they first meet again, it foreshadows the fact that the Goddess will show mercy on Angel, when it is time for her reincarnation.

This is an entertaining film that deserves to be better known.

Rating: Recommended (Recommended)

Posted by Peter Nepstad on March 30, 2004.

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