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October 12th, 2000 Issue #18

Hong Kong Digital is a recurring series of movie reviews by John Charles -- a film reviewer for Video Watchdog magazine and the author of The Hong Kong Filmography.

Iron Sister
(1996; Bao Shiung Film & Communication Co./Scholar Films): 4/10

Cover art courtesy Wide Sight.

Yuk nui

Yu nu

Passionate Woman

Hsu Chi. Image courtesy Wide Sight.

Reportedly produced around the time that Hsu Chi appeared in SEX AND ZEN II (1996), this Taiwanese production did not make it to Hong Kong theatres until the spring of 1999, yet another instance of a disposable movie being resurrected to cash in on its star's subsequent fame.

Jackson Liu Hsiu-hsien. Image courtesy Wide Sight.

Manchuria 1941: Caught sleeping with his Japanese major's mistress, Manchurian collaborator Tung Fei (Jackson Liu Hsiu-hsien) fatally shoots the man and flees for his life. Overcome by fatigue after hours of travel on horseback, Tung eventually awakens to find himself under the care of hunter Suen (Dick Wei) and his daughter, Ironic (Hsu). Hiding his true identity, Tung is invited to stay on with the family until he has recovered. Joining in on a guerilla raid, Tung's ruse is compromised and he is forced to kill Ironic's lover, Little Tiger Wang. Suen was crippled in the attack and Ironic (now pregnant with Wang's child) agrees to her father's request that she marry Tung, in order that they have a healthy man to provide for them.

Dick Wei. Image courtesy Wide Sight.

Ironic gives birth to a little girl who bears a strange resentment towards her stepfather and even tries to injure him. With their marriage starting to falter and Ironic refusing to let him touch her, Tung discovers his old lover working as a prostitute in a nearby village and takes up with her again. He also starts paying the woman not to see other men, using money that was meant to support his wife and father-in-law. Suen eventually discovers what Tung is up to, with predictably tragic results.

Directed by Yeh Hong-wei, IRON SISTER contains some nudity and mild sex, which prompted HK censors to give it the Category III rating, though it is not the softcore tease the cover photo seems to promise. Not surprisingly, none of this erotic content has any real bearing on the story, which proceeds along overly familiar lines and is peopled by characters who rarely display any perspicacity. Hsu Chi easily gives the best performance here, effectively conveying her character's evolution from irresponsible teenager to mature and intelligent mother, and the film is of definite interest to her fans. Ultimately though, were it not for the actress' incredible rise to fame in the late 90s, IRON SISTER would have been fortunate to garner even a direct-to-video release in the SAR.

Hsu Chi and Jackson Liu. Image courtesy Wide Sight.

Incidentally, for those who thought stupid post-production alterations were solely a Hollywood phenomenon: some executive apparently thought that the movie should have ended on a happier note, so another actress (who sounds nothing like Hsu Chi) was enlisted to dub in a final line for Ironic which is guaranteed to elicit groans from viewers who manage to make it that far.

Hsu Chi. Image courtesy Wide Sight.

DVD Specs:

Wide Sight #WSDVD 1056
Dolby Digital (5.1)
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Permanent Chinese and English Subtitles
6 Chapters Illustrated In the Menu With Clips
Letterboxed (1.80:1)
Coded for ALL Regions
Category III
92 minutes

DVD menu courtesy Wide Sight.

This is a typical Wide Sight release, offering no extras and a presentation little better than that found on VHS. The source print is quite worn in spots, with some gatefloat in the opening minutes, and the subtitles cannot be removed. Contrasts are too weak during night sequences, though the attractive daylight exteriors usually come across well enough. Both the Cantonese track (which the DVD defaults to) and the sync sound Mandarin version are remixed in 5.1 but there are no stereo separations and both sound quite flat. For those wondering if the choice of “Ironic” as a character name means that there is an extra hidden layer of meaning here, you can forget it. The name in Mandarin form is Ti-mei, which means “Iron Sister.” The movie may be Taiwanese but the "Chinglish" translation is clearly HK in origin.


Copyright © John Charles 2000. All Rights Reserved.

Hong Kong Digital is presented in association with Hong Kong Entertainment News In Review