Youtube Film Club: Lethal Panther (1991)

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We have the good person behind Youtube channel “Godfrey Ho Cinema” to thank for this, and several subsequent, reviews. They’ve put up dozens of of the great man’s movies, and as a service to you, dear reader, I’ll watch some, more or all of them, and tell you what’s worth bothering with.

What’s sort of surprising is that Ho was influenced by other things. So far, his movies have existed outside time, sort of vaguely modern kung-fu / ninja efforts, but this one is definitely hugely inspired by John Woo. From pigeons (subbing for doves) in the middle of a battle, to good guy assassins, to elaborate (for Ho) gunplay, to moral ambiguity, it’s just surprising to see Ho try for something like this. It’s even more surprising that it’s not two films bolted together – none of this says it’s good, necessarily, but the sights have been set a little higher.

 

Betty (Sibelle Hui) is in the CIA, despite looking like a suburban mother just back from taking her kids to school. She and her partner discover a counterfeit money ring, and this takes them to Thailand; also on their way there are two assassins, Eileen (Maria Jo) and Amy (Yoko Miyamoto), who are set up doing jobs in Japan and Hong Kong – this has the potential to be a classic Ho mashup, but the three women meet relatively early in proceedings. So, Eileen and Amy are both assigned the same job, to kill the boss of the crime family in charge of the counterfeiting, because his nephew wants to take over…it’s all a bit silly, but it seems Ho is really trying, doing some nice intercutting of the two women’s lives and jobs. Then they’re assigned to kill each other!

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Every scene is one of three things. It’s either a bullet-storm, a kung-fu fight, or sex. The sex is plentiful and rather graphic, which ensured its Cat III rating (basically, an 18 / NC-17), with women being stripped completely naked, multiple full frontal shots, while the men keep their trousers on at all times they’re shot below the waist. There’s one scene in a strip club where the only thing in a fairly lengthy shot is the “middle area” of a naked lady, which is more unusual than anything else.

 

Because it would literally be impossible for this time and this culture to make a movie where women were in charge and their thoughts and feelings were paramount, a surprising / annoying amount of the plot is driven by their menfolk. Eileen has a brother who’s just channelling Chow Yun Fat (he’s supposed to be living in France) and a boss who’s unable to shoot any more due to the shakes; and Amy has a boyfriend who’s also an assassin. Although their on-screen time is relatively short, it’s their plotlines which dominate the movie, and the casual indifference the movie shows when Eileen’s brother just straight up murders another main cast member is pretty amazing. Although saying that, Betty stakes a guy out to the ground and is about to run over him with a truck (to get information) but he has a heart attack and dies – no-one gives a damn.

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There’s a couple of very curious choices towards the end. Eileen and Amy are taken in and helped by a woman who must have heard the raging gun battle going on on her lawn, yet appears entirely unfazed by it – it turns out she’s a prostitute, who casually picked that line of work to allow her to keep her enormous mansion. After bonding with the two ladies, patching them up and letting them live with her, she says “at least my job is safe, unless the men have AIDS”, delivered the same way you’d talk about changing the sort of milk you used.

 

My favourite, though, is the plight of the brother. He’s sent away to France as a kid, to escape the life of murder that plagues Eileen’s family, but they’re so appallingly racist there, they torture him to the extent he can’t continue at school and decides to become an assassin instead. You know, that old career route!

 

The sex is weird and creepy (you’ve not lived til you’ve seen a guy squeeze milk over a woman’s crotch, from a condom with a hole pricked in the end), the actual hand-to-hand combat is fine, and the gun battles are sub-sub-Woo, but at least they try. They don’t try with the soundtrack, which is just straight lifts from other movies – keep an ear out for the “Halloween” theme, just accompanying some random scene.

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Unlike so much of Ho’s work, it’s able to focus all its efforts on one goal, and that’s being the best damned B-movie it can be (it’s only missing a car chase, really).  It’s trashy, but it never lets up for a minute, and if you can ignore it’s supposed to be about strong women, but is really driven by the actions and decisions of their men, it’s fun to see such a female centred movie – it’s a whole genre, girls with guns, apparently, although I don’t imagine any of them are much better than this. By a mile, the most coherent Godfrey Ho movie we’ve yet covered, although not quite the most entertaining.

 

Rating: thumbs in the middle

 

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