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Plot: druglord avenges his associate’s death. The LETHAL ladies are on the case.

For Picasso Trigger Hawaiian action mogul Andy Sidaris went big. The  guns are bigger, the explosions are bigger and the breasts were pretty big to begin with. Not deterred in the slightest by trivial things such as the absence of budget, talent, or plot, Picasso Trigger bursts at the seams with unparallelled enthusiasm and gusto. Peroxide blondes Dona Speir and Hope Marie Carlton return as ditzy federal agents Donna Hamilton and (still surname-less) Taryn from The Agency (the details of which won't be forthcoming until, at least, 7 episodes from now) and frequently threaten to burst out of their candy-colored bikinis at any given moment. Donna and Taryn are still clothing-averse and prone to breaking out the big guns (both literal and figurative) whenever Moloka’i or Hawaii at large is threatened by the criminal element. Andy Sidaris, like any redblooded male, categorically loves beautiful women, big guns, explosions and bare breasts. His Girls, Guns, and G-Strings series combined everything he loved into one. Picasso Trigger and the Sidaris canon is entertaining when it remains lighthearted and fun. If you enjoyed Hard Ticket to Hawaii (1987) this will be right up your alley.

After the events of Hard Ticket to Hawaii (1987) Donna and Taryn are out snorkeling on a well-deserved vacation. Meanwhile in Paris, France – complete with stock footage from the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe – Salazar (John Aprea) is donating a multi-million Picasso Trigger painting to the Musée des beaux-arts de la ville de Paris as a token of gratitude. On the steps outside of the museum he is gunned down. The assassination is part of an elaborate retaliatory scheme masterminded by druglord Miguel Ortiz (Rodrigo Obregón) to avenge the death of his associate Seth Romero in the preceding movie. LETHAL senior operative L.G. Abilene (Guich Koock) sets up an investigation acquiring the services of Donna and Taryn, Edy Stark (Cynthia Brimhall), his son Travis Abilene (Steve Bond), and trusted The Agency associate Jade (Harold Diamond), who works at Sea Life Park.

Assisting the LETHAL team is the Professor (Patrick LePore) who, just like in Hard Ticket to Hawaii (1987), comes bearing gadgets: a boomerang and a remote controlled racing car both, of course, set with explosives. In tow are Playboy Playmates Liv Lindeland (January 1971), and Roberta Vasquez (November 1984) as Inga and Paris liaison Pantera, respectively. At one point Inga asks the Professor, “do you want a Danish?” after which the Professor starts to untangle her bikini top, apparently oblivious (together with director Andy Sidaris, no doubt) to the fact that Lindeland hails from Norway, not Denmark, after which the famous pastry is named. It's the Professor who utters “killing is an art form”, the movie’s tagline.

Caught up in their own little action-filled subplot, one worthy of a 1970s Jess Franco production, are Playboy Playmates Kym Malin (May 1982) and Patty Duffek (May 1984) as a burlesque line dancing duo Kym & Patticakes. The routine is, of course, part of a deep undercover operation to apprehend a number of local gangsters, their ringleader Charles Patterson (Roy Summersett) and his second-in-command Schiavo (Nicholas Georgiade, as Nick Georgiade). Patterson and Schiavo promise the duo fame and fortune, but Kym and Patticakes remain focused on their mission objective. Upon completion of their mission, the girls relax and take their tops off… or frequently much earlier than that. Not that anybody in particular is complaining.

Perhaps more than any other episode before or since Picasso Trigger takes plenty of time fleshing out (which in Andy Sidaris tradition should be taken quite literally) the various amorous liaisons. Abilene the younger is initially courted by Spanish vixen Pantera, while he's still pursuing Donna. Feelings that Hamilton is all too eager to reciprocitate. In accordance with Abilene family tradition Travis can’t shoot straight no matter how close, or far, he is to his target. He doesn’t drive a red 1981 De Lorean DMC 12, but a 1981 Ferrari 308 GTSi, while he carries his firearm in a cow-skinned briefcase. Travis too lives on a Malibu Express (1985) houseboat. Travis is apparently okay, or unaware, that Donna hooked up with that other Abilene beefcake Rowdy earlier. “I don't have a jealous bone in my body,” Donna says when Travis explains his liaisons with Pantera, “check it out” as she drops her gown.

Taryn shares the jacuzzi with Hondo (Bruce Penhall) who asks her to stay over the weekend. An offer she declines because she’s a professional and she’s “on assignment.” A few scenes later Taryn is seen hooking up with golf-loving Jimmy-John (Wolf Larson). Jade and an agent become an item during the mission. The only relation to carry any emotional-narrative weight is the Pantera-Donna-Travis triangle. Donna quite comically solves the problem by shooting a harpoon at Pantera - who in the interim has revealed to be an enemy operative - the exit wound of which ends up, of course, right between her oversized breasts. Both Bruce Penhall and Roberta Vasquez would become regulars in the franchise in the following  years. Vasquez remains modest through out much of Picasso Trigger, offering plenty of deep cleavage, or the occassional sideboob. It wouldn’t be until Do or Die (1991), Hard Hunted (1993), and Fit to Kill (1993) that she showed off her considerable assets, albeit as a different, more benevolent character. The criminally underused Liv Lindeland would return as a different character in Guns (1990). Lindeland unfortunately never quite made it to the regular main cast.

Steve Bond was a television actor mostly remembered for his parts in General Hospital (1983-1986) and Santa Barbara (1989-1990). Bond would famously cross paths with sometime Tinto Brass muse Debora Caprioglio, or Paprika (1991) herself, in the Sergio Martino erotic thriller The Smile of the Fox (1992). Martial artist Keith Cooke (who appears as Keith Hirabayashi) - who would go on to portray Reptile in Mortal Kombat (1995), Chance O'Brien in Albert Pyun's Heatseeker (1995), and Sub-Zero in the famously disastrous Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (1997)  – makes a serviceable turn as a wise-cracking goon, especially when he tries to kill Donna and Taryn with a model airplane, and is, quite literally, blown to pieces with a rocket launcher for his trouble. After Picasso Trigger Kym Malin went on to play a bit part as a hostage in the Bruce Willis action hit Die Hard (1988) and that of a party girl in the Patrick Swayze action flick Road House (1989).

Bruce Penhall was in the Ruggero Deodato slasher BodyCount (1986) prior to becoming part of Andy-verse. John Aprea was in Bullitt (1968) with Steve McQueen, The Godfather: Part II (1974) with Al Pacino, and The Game (1997) with Michael Douglas and Sean Penn, among other credits. Harold Diamond would portray the stick fighter in the Sylvester Stallone epic Rambo III (1988). Dennis Alexio played a bit part in the Jean-Claude van Damme martial arts romp Kickboxer (1989). Hope Marie Carlton went on to play a dialog – and clothing-free bit part in A Nightmare On Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988) alongside a young Jennifer Rubin, and in the Albert Pyun martial arts stinker Bloodmatch (1991) with Thom Mathews. Still pooling talent from Playboy, and Penthouse centerfolds unfortunately Sidaris never saw it fit to offer Angelfist (1993) star Melissa Moore a role. Clearly Sidaris had a very specific beauty standard upon which he based his casting choices.

Hope Marie Carlton, Cynthia Brimhall, Liv Lindeland, and Roberta Vasquez show some semblance of acting skill, while Dona Speir, Patty Duffek, and Kym Malin stand out for all the wrong reasons. John Aprea, Rodrigo Obregón, Keith Cooke, and Nicholas Georgiade act better than what you’d usually expect in an Andy Sidaris production. Helping slightly in differentiating between Speir and Carlton is that Sidaris has now conveniently color-coded them, with Speir and Carlton wearing pink and green outfits respectively. Steve Bond is less of a leading man than Darby Hinton and Ronn Moss were, but to compensate he gets to roll in the hay with Dona Speir and Roberta Vasquez. The minimal plot is merely pretext for a series of tangentially related setpieces mostly revolving around scandily-clad women, big guns, and bigger explosions. Picasso Trigger knows what it is, and never professes to be anything else. An Andy Sidaris production is free from the usual rules that apply to low budget action movies of this kind - and, as would become clear the farther the franchise, well, not progressed so much as continued to exist - sometimes even old Andy didn't know how to make sense of the rules he set. In the Andy-verse there are usually two solutions to whatever problem the protagonists happen to face. One involves disproportionate guns, funny quips/one-liners and stuff blowing up in the most ridiculous way possible. The other is naked breasts, preferably a multitude of them and from a variety of Playboy and Penthouse models.

As with any early installment from the Girls, Guns, and G-Strings series it's clear that everybody was out to have a good time. From the bright, sunny beach locations, to the skimpy candy-colored bikinis, the ridiculous spy gadgets, and the abundance of bodacious babes in minimal fabric – Andy Sidaris aims for fun. One has to be completely heartless not to crack a smile at the sheer preposterousness of the affair. The explosions match the breasts in size, and when the girls fail to say their lines believably, Sidaris has them taking their tops off, often repeatedly. As history would come to show, bigger is always better in the Andy-verse. While the breasts might grow in size disproportionately as sequels followed, none of them would be quite the fun-filled romps that were Hard Ticket to Hawaii (1987) and Picasso Trigger. There may be many producers and directors that are better writers, better technicians, just better overall – but it remains debatable whether they are able to provide the same amount of fun per capita as Andy Sidaris and his team.

Plot: various factions wage war over the Twin Swords of Earth and Sky

After his New Wave period – encompassing the three features The Butterfly Murders (1979), We’re Going to Eat You (1980), and Dangerous Encounter of the First Kind (1980) – director/producer Tsui Hark started working for Cinema City Company and Golden Harvest, the company founded by Shaw Brothers exile Raymond Chow. Zu: The Warriors from the Magic Mountain (1983) - produced by Paragon Films for Golden Harvest - revolutioned the way special effects were used in the fantasy wuxia genre and established Tsui Hark as both a visionary and innovator. In fact the sheer number and complexity of the effects were unprecedented in Hong Kong cinema at the time. Derived from stories of mythology and antiquity and with an all-star cast of established and new talent Zu: The Warriors from the Magic Mountain was nominated 5 times at the 3rd Hong Kong Film Awards (Best Action Choreography - Corey Yuen, Best Actress - Brigitte Lin, Best Art Direction - William Chang, Best Film Editing - Peter Cheung and Best Picture) and set Tsui Hark on course in becoming ‘the Steven Spielberg of Asia’.

Zu: The Warriors from the Magic Mountain is probably the single most important movie in the early Tsui Hark canon. It was the transitional title in his evolution from low-budget (and largely commercially unsuccesfull) cinematographer to being the master of big-budget fantasy – and period costume wuxia. For the production of Zu: The Warriors from the Magic Mountain Hark founded Film Workshop and Cinefex and brought in Western special effects artisans to help him create 'the ultimate Chinese mythological spectacular'. Zu: The Warriors from the Magic Mountain was adapted from Lee Sau-Man’s 64 volume novel, “The Legend of the Zu Mountain Warriors,” and manages to squeeze 50 volumes into a nearly two-hour epic. Among the cast are Yuen Biao, Sammo Hung Kam-Bo, Norman Chu Siu-Keung, Corey Yuen Kwai as well as Brigitte Lin, Moon Lee, and Judy Ongg. Widely regarded as the Hong Kong equivalent to George Lucas’ Star Wars (1977) it made a staggering 15 million HK dollars at the box office and set the stage for Tsui Hark to helm even more ambitious projects. Art director William Chang would later become a key collaborator with director Wong Kar-Wai.

Di Ming Qi (Yuen Biao) is a Western Army scout during the Tang Dynasty. He is tired of the near-constant state of war the country is in. Chased from the battlefield for simultaneously obeying and disobeying direct orders from two different generals;. he runs into an equally disillusioned Eastern Army soldier (Sammo Hung Kam-Bo) and the two agree on the absurdity of the conflict and the futility of the concept of war. The two bond over the fact that they are indeed neighbors and pretend to be killed in order to escape the chaos and bloodshed. After making their escape from an invading faction Di Ming Qi falls into a crevasse and a thunderstorm forces him to retreat into a nearby cave to seek shelter and relative safety. The cave is part of the Zu mountainrange, in the Bazu region of Western China, a place of great strategic importance in times of war – and home to fabled antediluvian legends and primordial arcane mysteries. Without realizing it Di Ming Qi will soon find himself engaging in an epic battle for survival between the dominating forces of the terrestrial and the ethereal.

In the bowels of Zu, the Magic Mountain Di Ming Qi is beset by supernatural horrors until Ding Yin (Adam Cheng) comes to his rescue. Di Ming Qi vows to become Ding Yin’s pupil in order to pay his lifedebt. The two are attacked by the Blood Devil, a supreme evil manifesting itself as animated red cloths, that has been held at bay for the past century by powerful but aging monk Chang Mei, or Long Brows (Sammo Hung Kam-Bo). The Blood Devil feeds itself with the skulls of young boys and despite Chang Mei’s valiant attempts to contain it, he will only be able to hold off the Blood Devil for 49 more days before he too becomes corrupted by the demon’s malignant powers. They find allies in Xiao Ru (Damien Lau) and Yi Zhen (Mang Hoi), or Wisdom and Innocence as international translations call them, a master and pupil from Kunlun. Chang Mei instructs them to find the Celestial Swords to defeat the ancient hatred. They must seek Lei Yikkei, the current keeper of the Twin Swords of Earth and Sky, who according to legend meditated and practiced in a Tin-Ngoi-Tin cave. The four first face off against the Evil Cult, led by the Devil Disciple (Hark-On Fung), in the Sek-Lam temple. In the skirmish Xiao Ru is injured and the cure can only be found at Yiu-Chi-Sin fortress.

Before arriving at the fortification the group witnesses The Red Witch, a sorceress of unexplained origin. At the Celestial Fortress the fellowship is beset by a legion of female warriors under command of Mu Sang (Lee Choi-Fong, as Moon Lee). Lady Li I-Chi (Ha Kwong-Li) explains that they don’t take kind to the unannounced intrusion. Their pleads for help fall on deaf ears and Lady Li I-Chi exposits that the “immortal ice flame of the fort” signals the arrival of the Countess Of Jade Pond (Brigitte Lin). Ding Yin uses his magic to artificially keep the flame burning forcing the Countess to grant them a visitation. To their dismay the Countess is the same red-clad sorceress they met earlier, and the group understandably attacks her. Di Ming Qi is injured during the altercation and is healed by Ding Yin. The Countess Of Jade Pond reluctantly agrees to heal the wounded Xiao Ru. The process takes its toll on the Countess leading her to faint. Ding Yin hurries to her rescue, embarassing her while at it, but the two come to like each other. Ding Yin hands Di Ming Qi a sword but the latter soon finds out that the sword has been poisoned by the Red Witch. Di Ming Qi realizes that he’s bound to fall victim to the same possession Xiao Ru was just cured of. The Countess wants to help, but is too exhausted from the previous healing session. Ding Yin asks that she kill him, a request that draws her ire and soon the two factions are engaged in a battle that eventually leaves the Celestial Fortress encased in ice. Di Ming Qi, Yi Zhen, and head guard Mu Sang somehow are able to escape the frozen onslaught.

The three continue their journey and eventually run into Tin Dou (Norman Chu Siu-Keung), who international versions refer to as Heaven’s Blade, who has kept the unholy forces of evil at bay for over a century somewhere at the border between heaven and hell. Ding Yin, now completely overtaken by evil, appears but Di Ming Qi courageously battles him with one of his own swords until they are sucked into the lungs of hell. Tin Dou sacrifices himself to allow the duo to escape. Once they have regained their composure they notice two swords – green and purple – overhead and soon they find Lei Yikkei (Judy Ongg, as Weng Qian-Yu) on a nearby peak. Lei Yikkei informs them that time is running out and that they have to be united, in spirit and heart, in order to wield the Twin Swords of Earth and Sky. Lei Yikkei joins the unification existing within the two combined warriors. While all of this is transpiring the Countess Of Jade Pond meets the quarrelling Western and Eastern armies, but their common greater enemy leads them to working together. Once again the demonic Ding Yin appears, but with the last of her sorcery the Countess is able to defeat the monk. Just as the Blood Devil is to be unleashed, the Dual Swords are combined and the ancient hatred is defeated. Now having acquired near god-like powers the youths dedicate themselves to uniting the people of earth.

Brigitte Lin as the Countess Of Jade Pond

Taiwanese actress Brigitte Lin came from the Golden Harvest stable and was an experienced veteran from over 100 movies. Lin was a staple in Taiwanese dramas and romance, but towards the late 1970s veered towards historical drama, war, and action productions, before becoming a pillar in period costume wuxia in the eighties and nineties. Lin was a frequent collaborator with director Chu Yin-Ping in her earlier days and Zu: The Warriors from the Magic Mountain marked her reinvention under Tsui Hark. Lin scored her first role of note with the modest The Ghost Of the Mirror (1974), a loose adaption of Pu-Sing Ling’s Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio that Hark himself would adapt a few years later as A Chinese Ghost Story (1987). Lin initially found fame with cross-dressing roles in The Dream Of the Red Chamber (1978) and Peking Opera Blues (1986). She was a multiple Taiwan Golden Horse Award nominee but didn’t win one such award until Red Dust (1990). The award led to a second peak in her career with the likes of Dragon Gate Inn (1992) and Swordman II (1992). Lin would be put in a white wig in the fantasy wuxia The Bride with White Hair (1993), in both the original and its sequel as well as in the disastrous and widely derided Louis Cha adaptation Dragon Chronicles – The Maidens of Heavenly Mountain (1994).

Moon Lee as high guard Mu Sang

Before becoming a regular in the Girls with Guns HK action genre Moon Lee scored her first role of note as Mu Sang, high guard of the Countess Of Jade Pond in Zu: The Warriors from the Magic Mountain. In the following years Lee established herself as one of Hong Kong’s most elegant low-budget action stars by appearing in Teresa Woo San’s Girls with Guns archetype Angel (1987) alongside Yukari Oshima and Elaine Liu. For the next 6 years Lee would star in over 25 different action productions, including Princess Madam (1989), Devil Hunters (1989), Mission of Condor (1991), Mission of Justice (1992) and Kickboxer's Tears (1992). By 1993 the Girls with Guns genre was all but spent with budgets dwindling even further and productions relocating to the Philippines, Lee bade the acting profession farewell. Norman Chu was a Shaw Bros veteran who played a variety of roles in offerings as diverse as The Flying Guillotine (1975), The Mighty Peking Man (1977), The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978), Duel to the Death (1983), Sea Wolves (1991). Chu was a regular in Louis Cha adaptations appearing in The Battle Wizard (1977), Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils (1982) as well as Dragon Chronicles – The Maidens of Heavenly Mountain (1994).

Judy Ongg as Lei Yikkei during the unification of the Twin Swords of Earth and Sky

Zu: The Warriors from the Magic Mountain is a milestone in Hong Kong cinema for all the right reasons. It’s a nearly two-hour, special effects tour de force of wondrously grand proportions that sets a bunch of beautiful young people on a perilous epic quest to defeat an ancient evil. It’s a veritable high point of Hong Kong cinema that shouldn’t be missed by anyone with an interest in cinema, Asian or otherwise. With a cast including Yuen Biao, Adam Cheng, Damian Lau, Sammo Hung, Corey Yuen, Brigitte Lin, Moon Lee and Judy Ongg Zu: The Warriors from the Magic Mountain is a gathering of current and soon-to-be HK superstars and a young director with talent to spare. No wonder Tsui Hark went on to become one of the most revered Asian directors. Zu: The Warriors from the Magic Mountain brims with energy and is a visual spectacle to behold. Just four years later Hark would force his international breakthrough with the ghost romance A Chinese Ghost Story (1987) with Leslie Cheung and Joey Wong. If anything, Zu: The Warriors from the Magic Mountain very much sets the stage for that.