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Plot: Hong Kong babes must partake in clandestine martial arts tournament.

Kick Ass Girls (released domestically as 爆3俏嬌娃, or roughly translated, Explosive 3) is a Mainland China Bloodsport (1988) or Lionheart (1990) derivate aimed specifically at young adult girls, or so it seems at least. There’s physical comedy, romance, and enough inter-personal drama to fill a daytime soap opera. The girls get to giggle, wear lots of pastel-colored fashion and don expensive make-up while living it up big. It comes bursting with girl power and acts as a feminist manifesto of sorts. Even though it was directed by a woman, there are more than enough shots of the Kick Ass Girls in sexy get-ups for the guys to take notice. As for ourselves, we mainly checked it out because it stars Chrissie Chau Sau-Na, who’ve really taken a shine to in recent years. What Angel Warriors (2013) was to action-adventure, Kick Ass Girls is to the martial arts/streetfighting movie.

You have to admire Chrissie Chau Sau-Na. Chrissie started acting in 2006 and the by time Kick Ass Girls rolled around in 2013 her career was moving upward. She had a minor box office hit with the sports comedy Beach Spike (2011) two years before and now she and her friends were teaming up once again for something similar. Kick Ass Girls signaled her exit from ghost horror and fantasy wuxia and back into the romance and dramas wherein she made a name for herself. As a model-turned-actress Chrissie might not be as inherently gifted as, say, Ni Ni or as stupendously curvy as Mavis Pan Shuangshuang, Pan Chun Chun, or Miki Zhang Yi-Gui – but she has proven to be a versatile actress that can easily carry a production on her own. Of all the aspiring actresses in Mainland China her workhorse mentality has made her a respectable force domestically, and she could very well cross over into the English-speaking world the way Fan Bingbing, Yu Nan, and Ni Ni did if she ever mastered more than just her native Mandarin and Cantonese. 2013 was a busy year for sweet Chrissie that saw her appearing in a whopping 11 (!!) movies, among them Cold Pupil (2013), Lift to Hell (2013), and The Extreme Fox (2013). Chau won a Hong Kong Film Award in 2017 and among her more prestigious recent projects is Master Z: Ip Man Legacy (2018) from director Yuen Wo-Ping. Not bad at all for the girl who Hong Kong enfant terrible Raymond Wong once described as just another airheaded “bimbo”.

In Hong Kong entrepreneur Boo (Chrissie Chau Sau-Na) is having a hard time keeping her Kick Ass Girl gym profitable. Her friends and business partners TT (Hidy Yu Xiao-Tong) and Miu (DaDa Lo Chung-Chi) are more of a hindrance than a help. Their manager (Lawrence Chou Chun-Wai) does the best he can under the circumstances, but he isn’t able to turn the tide. When Boo’s brother Dice (Chui Tien-You) is scammed out of her hard-earned money by his crook of a partner, and the landlord (Courtney Wu) comes calling for rent; it looks as if the curtain is about to fall over Kick Ass Girl. One night the gym is overrun by black suited corporate goons, and the three girls defend what is rightfully theirs. Duly impressed by their showing Boo, TT, and Miu are hired as security detail by, and for, businesswoman Zhuge (Chris Tung Bing-Yuk). When she informs them that their first assignment will be a trip to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia as part of her entourage the Kick Ass Girls board the next plane to what they consider to be an easy paycheck, but mostly a lavish “paid vacation”. Once settled in their Kuala Lumpur hotel the girls live it up in their suite and go clubbing. Upon returning their driver takes them not to their hotel, but to a clandestine full-contact martial arts tournament organized by the Red Dragon cartel. There they’ll be forced to fight to the death. They will not only have to face reigning champion Emily (Lam Pui-Kei), but also the forces of crime lord Ghost Lion (Bryan To Hang-Lam) and his ring of human traffickers. Thanks to a reporter (Karson Lok Jan-Wai) the Kick Ass Girls make headlines boosting Boo’s struggling gym to become profitable.

Sounds all strangely and vaguely familiar, doesn't it? That’s because Kick Ass Girls is, give or take a few scenes that are changed around and some condensed plot contrivances here and there, more or less a contemporary young adult update of the Teresa Woo San Girls with Guns classic Angels 2 (1987). Not only that, director John McTiernan, or writers Jim and John Thomas, must have been familiar with it too because the entire jungle raid that opens Predator (1987) re-enacts the best moments of the jungle raid finale in one of Hollywood’s most fondly remembered action sequences. A running joke or gag is that TT and Miu, two self-described “HK flat-chests”, are jealous of Boo’s rather wealthy bosom, and it’s all the funnier that it comes to save them in the end. It’s also pretty funny that a gym called Kick Ass Girl has a predominantly male patronage, and only after their Malay adventure do more girls start pouring in. Okay, there’s a Kick Ass Boy sign that can be seen for only a couple of seconds in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it early scene in the very beginning. The action direction and fight choreography from Che Kim-Fai is decent enough, but it’s never particularly riveting. As such it’s no match for the high-flying choreography from Stanley Tong Gwai-Lai in Angels 2 (1987).

The biggest name of the cast is the always enjoyable Chrissie Chau Sau-Na. Kick Ass Girls wasn’t Chrissie’s first sports movie and neither was it the first time she co-starred with both DaDa Lo Chung-Chi and Hidy Yu Xiao-Tong. The same thing happened very much earlier with the volleyball comedy Beach Spike (2011). While it’s true that Chau is never going to conquer the English-speaking world the way Fan Bingbing, Yu Nan, or Ni Ni have, she has proven that she’s not afraid of physical acting. In Kick Ass Girls she’s the most talented of the three leads, and it’s quite obvious why Vincci Cheuk Wan-Chi (who has a much smaller supporting role) chose it as a vehicle exactly with her in mind. DaDa Lo Chung-Chi and Hidy Yu Xiao-Tong are both good enough, but Chau doesn’t have the chemistry she had with Connie Man Hoi-Ling, and Joyce Cheng Yan-Yi in the Jing Wong production iGirl (2016). We've come to like Chrissie a lot since we first laid eyes on her in the lamentable Lift to Hell (2013) and unlike Pan Chun Chun, Miki Zhang Yi-Gui, and Zhu Ke Er she can actually act when given the right material. Just like in The Extreme Fox (2013) later the same year Chrissie is a wonder to behold when she’s given a screenplay that plays up to her strengths. Cold Pupil (2013) might not have been a lot but at least it knew what to do with her. It almost goes without saying but Kick Ass Girls, for all intents and purposes, is Chrissie’s movie – and she owns it.

Compared to Beach Spike (2011) this one is equally cheery and is a lot darker in tone than you’d expect from a young adult drama. It starts off majestic enough with Chrissie bouncing around in the ring to the tones of Ludwig Van Beethoven's 5th Symphony in C Minor but when she does the same to ‘Act 2 - Squilla il bronzo del dio… Guerra, guerra’ (‘Act 2 – The bronze of God rings… War, war’) from Vincenzo Bellini’s famous 1831 opera Norma her situation is quite different and much more desperate. Judging by the amount of breast – and cleavage shots you’d swear Kick Ass Girls was directed by a man, but nothing could be further from the truth. Vincci Cheuk Wan-Chi likes the female form just as much as the average red-blooded male, but she never makes it a point. Chrissie Chau Sau-Na is versatile enough to handle the drama as well as the kickboxing – and she’s at her best when she can act physically. Kick Ass Girls isn’t going to appeal to anybody who doesn’t already like these actresses or has a passing familiarity with Angels 2 (1987) which apparently served as a template. That minor qualm aside Kick Ass Girls is better than most Mainland China webmovies usually are.

Plot: where Loredana goes, everybody else follows...

Every country has its softcore sex goddess. Holland had Nada van Nie, Germany had the delectable trio of Olivia Pascal, Ursula Buchfellner, and Betty Vergés; Sweden had Christina Lindberg, Solveig Andersson, and Leena Skoog; Denmark had Birte Tove, and in Spain there were Andrea Albani, Sara Mora, and Eva Lyberten. Italy had plenty of Lolitas running around, but for the purview of this review we’ll focus on one in particular: Gloria Guida, Miss Teen Italy 1974. In some circles she’s considered the Italian Marilyn Monroe, and to the rest of the world she’s Italy’s most famous piece of ass (next to Femi Benussi, probably). In 1975 director Michele Massimo Tarantini would create her most enduring character, La Liceale (or The High School Girl, released in North America as The Teasers). La Guida had been dabbling in comedy for a good year by that point, but she hadn’t yet scored a genuine hit. The High School Girl would change all that and launch her to stratospheric heights of success, both domestic and abroad. Suddenly Gloria was not just Italy’s hottest comedy star, but a full-blown international superstar and sex symbol. The world was at Gloria’s feet. For the casual fan there are but two mandatory Gloria Guida romps. Of those two, The High School Girl is the probably the best remembered…

In 1975 la Guida’s conquest of the commedia sexy all’Italiana had barely begun and she already had scored her first major hit. Afer playing a lovably naive teen girl in Silvio Amadio’s The Minor (1974) and Mario Imperoli’s Monika (1974) Gloria suddenly found herself the most in-demand starlet on the domestic comedy scene. At a breakneck pace she appeared in The Novice (1975), Sins Of Youth (1975), The Mammon Cat (1975), That Malicious Age (1975), and Blue Jeans (1975). In her first outing as the school girl la Guida is paired with consummate professionals Mario Carotenuto, Enzo Cannavale, and Giuseppe Pambieri, German soft sex star Alena Penz, Angela Doria, a pre-La Cicciolina Ilona Staller, and perennial buffoon Alvaro Vitali (for once not in tandem with his frequent partner in crime Lino Banfi). Interestingly, sequels only appeared following Gloria’s second career peak with Fernando Di Leo’s scathing satire To Be Twenty (1978). In quick succession The High School Girl in the Class of Repeaters (1978), The High School Girl Seduces the Teachers (1979), and the three-part anthology The High School Girl, the Devil, and the Holy Water (1979) all starring la Guida followed, transforming it into a loose series. Only Marino Girolami’s non-canonical The High School Girl at the Beach with Dad’s Friend (1980) had Sabrina Siani taking over the part from glorious Gloria. Sadly, la Guida retired before a commedia with her as l’insegnante could be produced.

Michele Massimo Tarantini was one of the specialists of the commedia sexy all’Italiana genre. Together with Sergio Martino, Fernando Di Leo, Pasquale Festa Campanile, Marino Girolami and Mario Imperoli he was responsible for some of the genre’s most defining works. He had worked as production secretary, set designer, editor, and assistant director under Sergio Martino, Giuliano Carnimeo, Nando Cicero, and Mariano Laurenti. Tarantini rose to fame with his giallo Seven Hours of Violence (1973) but would find his first commercial success with The High School Girl instead. He helmed a few sequels to Nando Cicero’s The School Teacher (1975) with Edwige Fenech. Fenech would play the raunchy substitute teacher in The School Teacher in the House (1978) and The Schoolteacher Goes to Boys' High (1978) from Mariano Laurenti. After casting Gloria Guida as la liceale he chose her fellow Lolita Lilli Carati for the role as l’insegnante in School Days (1976). Tarantini would cast Fenech in Confessions of a Lady Cop (1976) and its two sequels A Policewoman on the Porno Squad (1979) and A Policewoman in New York (1979). In 1983 Tarantini moved to Brazil and continued his career there. During that time he helmed, among others, The Sword of the Barbarians (1982), the women-in-prison flick Women in Fury (1984), the Cannibal Ferox (1981) cash-in Massacre In Dinosaur Valley (1985), as well as the Cirio H. Santiago styled jungle actioner The Hard Way… The Only Way (1989), often under his Anglo-Saxon alias Michael E. Lemick. Unlike his colleague Marino Girolami, Taranti was versatile enough to be tolerable in non-comedic genres too – which isn’t always a given with directors specializing in comedy.

Loredana D'Amico (Gloria Guida) is stunningly beautiful and incredibly restless, as a result her academic performance is mediocre because she’s bored. To kill the time (and her boredom) Loredana takes great fun in seducing faculty members as a pastime, to help her friends whenever they are in a bind, or whenever her grades need a boost. She doesn’t understand her bored housewife mother Elvira (Gisella Sofio) or her absentee businessman father Comm. D'Amico (Mario Carotenuto) for that matter, and wishes nothing but that they would be strict with her. Her mother is in a tryst with another man and her father has a habit of engaging in office affairs, usually with his young secretary (Alena Penz). Bored in art class one day Loredana looks how far she can go in teasing middle-aged Professor Mancinelli (Renzo Marignano) while he explains the finer anatomical points of the famed Aphrodite of Knidos statue. Mancinelli, profusely sweating in acute ecstasy, is reduced to a madly babbling husk and has to be carted off, supposedly in need of immediate medical attention. The dean brings in substitute teacher Professor Gianni Guidi (Gianfranco D'Angelo), a wild-haired caricature of an educator prone to neurosis and nervous tics, to take over Mancinelli’s scheduled classes. Before long Loredana has set her sights on him too.

Currently Loredana is dating American exchange student Billy (Rodolfo Bigotti), but she isn’t sure whether he loves her for the right reasons. Her classmate Petruccio Sciacca (Alvaro Vitali) has a thing for her too. He will go through great lengths to paint her portrait, preferably in the nude. As such Petruccio is too preoccupied (and oblivious) to the obvious in front of him: studious blonde good girl (and resident tomboy) Lucia (Angela Doria) has been sweet on him for as long as they’ve shared classes, and she’s very willing take her clothes off if he would only ask her. Loredana’s roommate Monica (Ilona Staller) moonlights as an escort for extra money, and will try to seduce her into a sapphic liaison whenever the opportunity arises. Loredana and Billy kill time by engaging in an especially passionate heavy petting session in the abandoned biology classroom, scaring the living daylights out of the janitor (Ennio Colaianni).

Things start to look up when Loredana meets strapping blonde hunk of a man, Marco Salvi (Giuseppe Pambieri) and is immediately smitten. The two engage in a brief, steamy affair and only after she learns that Salvi is an engineer from Turin, and one of her father’s young business associates. One day sharing a car Loredana’s panties somehow end up in Professor Guidi’s briefcase with all the expected results. Guidi is assaulted by Billy and his gang of motorcycle-riding goons, who don’t take kind to the professor being on the receiving end of attention of their leader’s sometime girlfriend, but Guidi valiantly defends himself to great success with chop sockey kung fu moves. A misunderstanding concerning a writ leaves her parents thinking that their 17-year-old daughter has disappeared. Loredana’s affair with Marco, brief and passionate as it was, serves as a catalyst to improve their home situation as her mom and dad reconciliate their marital differences and prioritize each other over their jilted lovers.

If The High School Girl is testament to anything, it’s that Tarantini knew exactly what everybody was there for: to see Gloria Guida in the buff as often and early as humanly possible. Suffice to say, it delivers exactly what it promises, and does so in spades. Plus, it has the added bonus of being not half-bad on its own. It’s as if the stars aligned and every element fell perfectly in place. Credits should probably go to director of photography Giancarlo Ferrando who photographs glorious Gloria beautifully from whatever flattering angle at his disposal. In the years following The High School Girl Ferrando went on to lens everything from Mountain Of the Cannibal God (1978), the Edwige Fenech-Barbara Bouchet romp Wife On Vacation… Lover in the City (1980), Cream Puffs (1981), and 2019 - After the Fall Of New York (1983) to low-budget cannon fodder as Hands Of Steel (1986) and Alfonso Brescia’s Filipino-Dominican Republic trash action classic Cross Mission (1988). That The High School Girl works so well as it does is in no small part thanks to writers Francesco Milizia and Marino Onorati, both of whom were genre specialists. The High School Girl is, above all else, a paean, a valentine to everybody’s favorite Lolita. There were starlets before Guida and there were after, but none quite set the screen alight the way she did. While not as knee-slappingly funny or outright comedic as some of the more stereotypical Italian comedies of the day The High School Girl is, surprisingly, bereft of the usual melodrama and tragedy rife in Guida’s body of work. Sometimes things just work.

By the tall end of 1979 – after having scored two monster hits with The High School Girl and To Be Twenty (1978) – Gloria, at the ripe age of 24, realized that it was high time to retire the beloved character as she grew increasingly unbelievable in the role that made her a superstar. She had posed for Playboy in April 1977 and Playmen in June 1976, May 1978, and November 1979 and all signs were pointing towards her acting career winding down. Like so many of her ilk she took to singing. She was two years away from meeting her future-husband Johnny Dorelli and a year after that she would retire completely. It’s pretty amazing how much of a phenomenon Gloria Guida was able to become despite, or in spite of, only being active for a good five years. Of all the things Gloria lend her name and figure to The High School Girl is probably the only to endure the way that it did. Not even To Be Twenty (1978) (arguably the better and more subtextual of the two) has enjoyed that kind of longevity. And the fact that glorious Gloria was able to carve out such a respectable career for herself probably paved the way for actresses like Sabrina Siani, Luciana Ottaviani, and the like – whose primary sellingpoint were their good looks and willingness to shed clothes when required. It’s a bit strong to call Gloria Guida the Barbara Steele of Italian comedy, but she came damn close….