The film opens with a splash: Julian Cheung emerges from a bathtub with bare chest, and Shu Qi - dressed in tight black leather - climbs off a motorcycle. The film has something to live up to after an opening like this. There should be something for everybody. Something for the girls and something for the boys...
By all accounts, "Martial Angels" should be a winner. It strifes for a mix between Hong Kong action and "Charlie's Angels" detective story, the cast is comprised of the hottest actresses Hong Kong has to offer and it has plenty of cool heist scenes and loads of action. But from the word go, it's clear that this supposedly winner is off track. First of all, despite the fact that there are seven angels, we only get to see 3 of them in the opening heist. This is one of the films main problems: There are simply too many characters. With seven angels instead of three (as in "Charlie's..."), it leaves little time to expand the characters. Shu Qi leads the pack, with the most screentime and the best character, while Sandra Ng and Kelly Lin provide solid support, but the rest of the girls are reduced to mere cameos, some of them don't even get a single scene just for themselves. But don't get me wrong, they are still cute as hell. Especially Amanda Strang.
The second major problem is the action scenes. They should be top-notch, but unfortunately they are too messy. There's lots of cool shots and great choreography but it's clumsily put together and the rhythm is all wrong.
However, there's still a lot to like. The main attraction is of course Shu Qi. She plays the role of Cat with a sweet bitterness. She's never been more beautiful and whoever is responsible for lighting her face, should get a medal. She's simple stunning in this film. Glossy lips, a tear in the corner of her eye, and with a suitably tormented look on her face.
But one thing I don't get about the whole story is this: Why would the other girls sacrifice so much for Cat? She doesn't seem to care that much for them. You can speculate that they've been through thick and thin together, and that's the reason they're willing to do so much for her, but there are actually no scenes in the film to support this theory.
Sandra Ng merely goofs around. Her character is a compulsive gambler and maybe an ex-hooker, but she chooses to play the slapstick angle instead, which work quiet well because after all she's charming as hell (by the way, check out "Portland Street Blues" for a true powerhouse performance). Kelly Lin plays the only other character with emotional baggage, and although this is clearly Shu Qi's film, she does a nice job too.
The others girls are just for show (but damn, what a show!). The only justification for their existence seems to be the shot where they all walk towards the camera in slow motion, and you know what...? That's good enough for me!
Julian Cheung is perhaps the weakest link in the film. It's clear from the beginning that he's up to no good, so why do the girls jump through hoops just because he's gotten himself into trouble again? Hell, they should just leave him where he is. This is Cheungs second film with Shu Qi. They starred together in "Extreme Crisis". Here Cheung plays second fiddle to Shu Qi, and doesn't have much to do.
Among the supporting characters Terence Yin as Bone is the most entertaining. He's some kind of explosion expert, but when the girls go to visit him in jail, they realise that he's also incredibly horny. He throws himself towards them and licks the glass, when they first visit him! But the deadline is close and the girls have no choice but to bust him out of jail anyway. One of my favourite scenes occur when the girls are breaking into a high security vault. Spider (Amanda Strang) opens the door, but has to keep her hands on the handle, or else the vault will lock again. Cat and one of the other girls enter the vault and leaves Spider outside, alone with Bone. When they are gone he moves up behind her. He holds a hand over her mouth, unzips his pants and... well you get the idea. When he's done he removes his hand. She doesn't scream, she just looks straight ahead and coldly says: "Finished? Fix my clothes.... Don't tell the others." Still out of breath he whispers in her ear that he'll do anything for her. Something he'll get a chance to prove later.
Naturally the film ends in a climatic fight scene, where everything blows up, and everybody kicks each others asses with cool martial art tricks. After that the film wraps up extremely fast, but ends on a nice note. It all happens so quickly that you don't have a chance to think about any of it before the credits roll, but when I think about the ending afterwards, I must admit I find it a tad rushed.
The final scene - obviously a setup to a sequel - seems half-hearted, almost like the filmmakers know they fumbled the ball, and will never get the chance to turn this into a franchise. Too bad, because with a stronger script and a more talented action director, this could turn into a beautiful series. After all, "Charlie's Angels in Chinese". How hard can it be to sell that concept?
The film isn't all that bad, but the amount of wasted potential on display is just heartbreaking. Martial Angels should have been genius. Instead it's just average.