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Plot: hospital is haunted by apparitions and suspect slayings.

Ghosts are deeply ingrained in Chinese culture and folklore. They were part of oral tradition before writing developed during the Shang Dynasty (1600 - 1046 BCE). From there out they came one of the earliest stories in ancient Chinese literature and they are very much part of everyday life in China to this day. The Chinese pantheon of ghosts and apparitions is especially interesting as it mixes ancient concepts of the cycle of life, death and rebirth with philosophical traditions like Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism. In Chinese folklore there a multitude of different ghosts; some benevolent, some malevolent and the majority of them happen to be female. Roughly speaking there are three categories of female ghosts: the vengeful, the orphaned, and the hungry. The vengeful ghost seek retribution against those that wronged her in life, the orphaned ghost has no living descendants to offer libations in her name and thus she is forced to wander the mortal realm, while the hungry ghost is typically condemned for transgressions or wrongdoings engaged in during life. Just as in folklore and culture ghosts have been part of the Chinese cinematic landscape since the dawn of filmmaking. Asia has a long history in having some of the best ghost movies.

Whether it are classical examples like The Enchanted Shadow (1960), and The Ghost Of the Mirror (1974), post-modern fantasy-infused efforts like A Chinese Ghost Story (1987), Green Snake (1993), or more contemporary outings as Ringu (1998), Ju-On: The Grudge (2002), Dark Water (2002), and The Eye (2002) Asia has a long history with ghost horror and has contributed many a classic to the subgenre. While hardly the worst of its kind Lift to Hell (電梯驚魂) occasionally manages to push the right buttons but isn’t exactly what you’d call riveting. It was based on the internet novel 18 Floors Underground (地下18層) by Bu Zhoushan Sanren and while we can’t vouch for how faithful it’s to the source material, it’s able to scrounge up an atmospheric scene here and there. Most of the time however Lift to Hell is, sadly, emblemic of Mainland China ghost horror at large in so many ways. It remains ever popular with young filmmakers due to how easy they are to make (consider them the Sino equivalent of found footage, slashers, or paranormal horrors) in general and the subgenre shows no signs of… well, giving up the ghost, you could say. Hong Kong, Thailand, and Indonesia do this type horror far better, for all the obvious and not so obvious reasons.

In the old Peninsula Hospital in northern China head nurse Ma (Yang Qing) dies under mysterious circumstances one night after failing to take her medication. In her dying moments she remembers the 18th floor incident and the walls adorned with the words “today, it’s your turn!” written in blood. That same night Dr. Lin Fei (Blue Lan Cheng-Lung), son of hospital dean Dr. Lin Siyuan (Su De), sees what he believes to be a female ghost through the telescope from his flat in the opposite building when watching his girlfriend nurse Bai Jie (Chrissie Chau Sau-Na). Lin Fei is not liked by everybody, the nurses like him well enough, but for senior heart surgeon Dr. Zhang Tiankai (Robert Lin) his youthful idealism are a grave annoyance. One day Tiankai is accused by a journalist of the Medical Daily of plagiarising a German medical dissertation for one of his recent publications. He assumes that since they had their professional differences that Lin Fei must be behind it. When the elderly doctor too receives a “today, it’s your turn!” note in his email, he commits suicide by jumping out of the window.

All of this prompts the hospital’s geriatric custodian Hu Wei (Cai Hong-Xiang) to try and exorcise the ghost. When Lin Fei tries to consult the custodian he finds him not only unreponsive but he too commits suicide driven mad by terror. The spate of mysterious deaths stoke the rumors of the hospital being haunted among nurses and staff. The mysterious deaths compel Lin Fei to dig deep into the case history of the hospital. Since Lin Fei was the last to see old man Hu alive the good doctor is, understandably, among the suspects. This forces Bai Jie to end their relationship to safeguard her own reputation and future employment. As Lin Fei plunges deeper into his investigation Bai Jei starts dating Lin Fei’s senior Dr. Ouyang Ke (Tse Kwan-Ho). As Lin Fei follows the clues he discovers a medical malpractice case the hospital went to extremes to cover up. Will he live long enough to exonerate himself off any alleged wrongdoing, uncover the sordid truth behind Dr. Ouyang Ke, the mysterious death of Ouyang’s mother Dr. Ye Zi (Chrissie Chau Sau-Na) on the 18th floor, and the alleged ghost that now seems to haunt everybody involved with the case?

Since this was a production from the Film Bureau it guarantees two things: first, there will be nothing that could be in any way construed as offensive to Chinese cultural sensibilities and/or to the state-sanctioned Chinese national identity. Second, the Film Bureau is in the habit of contracting a lot of models in their productions. In this case the prerequisite model is Chrissie Chau Sau-Na (周秀娜). Chau, the once-and-future Sino queen of cleavage, didn’t become a superstar overnight. She was a veritable internet phenomenom in and around 2009. In that capacity she was invited to the Knowledge Unlimited seminar at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology that year where she was unable to answer a number of philosophical and existential questions. A year later veteran actor Anthony Wong singled her out for criticism and ridicule as a pseudo-model (models without formal training and who don’t meet the criteria for catwalk models, what the Chinese refer to as lang mo) calling them “bimbos”. Second, after slaving away in thankless decorative and flower vase roles of no real weight or importance in romances, ghost horrors, and comedies for almost a decade Beach Spike (2011) was sweet Chrissie’s first genuine hit and signaled that her career was on the uptick. 2013 was a busy year for her. In just twelve months Chau was in a whopping 11 (!!) movies including, but not limited to, Kick Ass Girls (2013), Cold Pupil (2013), and The Extreme Fox (2013). Of course, since sweet Chrissie cuts a dashing 32D figure you can bet that she’ll be changing clothes and taking a shower. This being Mainland China everything always stays within the realms of respectability.

Even in such a target-rich environment as the Mainland China ghost horror scene Lift to Hell is an abomination. Mired with a mess of a screenplay as well as cinematography and special effects that range from decent to amateuristic Lift to Hell is hardly a vital contribution to the subgenre. How many completely telegraphed (not to mention, obvious) jump-scares and creepy shots of darkened interiors can you throw at the viewer before boredom inevitably sets in? This is about as close to furniture - or interior design porn as you’re likely to get. There are endless meandering semi-creepy digital effects shots of elevators that you’d swear this is a Sino take on The Lift (1983) (which it isn’t, although it tries very hard to). How many shots of sweet Chrissie looking misty-eyed or constipated does the world really need? Cold Pupil (2013) had the good grace to make Chau an active participant in the plot. In what little Lift to Hell distinguishes itself from any other Mainland China ghost horror is that sweet Chrissie is given the opportunity to play multiple roles. Not that that in itself in any way an innovation, it’s an age-old continental European gothic horror convention dating back at least to the mid-sixties. The only really interesting thing that the screenplay has on offer is the explanation for its ghost. Not that that is much of a compliment as this is what Mainland China ghost horror is rightly infamous for. The law forbids it. There are no, and will not be any, ghosts, ever, in a Mainland China ghost horror. There are some mild allusions to the Diyu (地獄, or "earth prison”) of Chinese folk religion (that blends concepts of Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism) but nothing is ever done with it.

Once every blue moon Lift to Hell generates a pulse and when it does so it’s able to conjure up a decent spooky image or good sound design. However rare said occurances might be it’s faint praise for a production abiding by pretty much all of the tried-and-true conventions. Lift to Hell is so rife with clichés and contrivances that it’s more fun to predict what’s going to happen next than it’s interested in scaring the viewer. On the whole it’s closer to We Are Not Alone (2016) in that it’s a good enough little genre exercise but nothing particularly compelling or even all that well written. It’s not nearly as subtextually rich as Verónica (2017) or P (2005). Chrissie Chau Sau-Na is easy enough on the eyes but at this point Blue Lan Cheng-Lung was a bigger star than she was. This means Chau’s relegated to the default position of love interest and Lift to Hell gives her practically nothing to work with. Not that sweet Chrissie is able to lift elevate Lift to Hell beyond the trite and mediocre. Don’t go in expecting a contemplative, introspective slowburn as Nobuo Nakagawa's Jigoku: The Sinners of Hell (地獄) (1960) neither hope for a grotesque bloodfeast with Mario Bava-esque lightning and set design in the way of Teruo Ishii's Jigoku: Japanese Hell (地獄) (1999). China, or Hong Kong, has spawned far better crafted ghost movies than Lift to Hell. This is not it.

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.