Skip to content

Plot: philandering private eye must diffuse hostage situation. Hilarity ensues!

We’re not a fan of Jackie Chan. While arguably one of the enduring and popular martial artists in the western hemisphere, we find his shtick tiring and annoying in equal measure. As a general rule we take great pains to avoid his work, but for every rule there are exceptions. City Hunter is that one exception. Why? His female co-stars for the most part. Not only is City Hunter blessed with two of the biggest stars of that decade and the one before: Chingmy Yau Suk-Ching (邱淑貞) and Joey Wong Cho-Yin (王祖賢), and it makes ample use of their considerable talents, comedic and otherwise. City Hunter was adapted from the Tsukasa Hôjô manga of the same name and is remembered for its brief detour into videogame adaptation territory. It never was a full-blown Street Fighter II: The World Warrior (1991) adaptation the way the lamentable American Street Fighter (1994) (with Jean-Claude Van Damme, Kylie Minogue, and Ming-Na Wen) supposedly was. For better or worse the world got two Jing Wong productions of wildly divergent quality as a direct result. City Hunter is probably the most 90s movie Chan and director Wong ever lend their name to.

The story, as documented by chroniclers of the day, is that director/producer Jing Wong was aware of the success of Street Fighter II: The World Warrior (1991) in arcades worldwide. City Hunter, at least during the earliest days of production, was going to be a manga adaptation exclusively. A fierce bidding war for the Street Fighter copyrights ensued wherein Chan would emerge as victorious. Wong had long expressed his desire to adapt the game for the big screen and Chan refused to grant him the license. It was 1993 (a marquee year for arcade beat ‘em ups) and Wong obviously wanted to capitalize on that with a Street Figher movie. Chan not wanting the relinquish the licensing, understandably, led to friction and the two frequently engaged in on-set shouting matches midway through production. In a bitter dispute Jackie Chan would denounce City Hunter and personally attack Jing Wong in the specialized press. Wong for his part used whatever pre-production material he had on hand for the improvised sci-fi comedy Future Cops (1993) and took a very thinly-veiled sweep at his former associate and star in the form of High Risk (1995), a Die Hard (1988) imitation very much like City Hunter. As these things go, City Hunter itself was plagiarized for the amiable Madam City Hunter (1993) (with little miss dynamite, Cynthia Khan) as it was a clear derivate of both that and Yes, Madam! (1985) (with Michelle Yeoh and Cynthia Rothrock) and Super Lady Cop (1993) that came replete with a Taiwan-exclusive “Khan as Chun-Li” in a comedic Street Fighter setpiece. Those hoping to see Joey Wong Cho-Yin or Chingmy Yau Suk-Ching donning Chun-Li's famous blue qipao will leave sorely disappointed. Chingmy won’t even be shaking her cute little rump.

When his partner Hideyuki Makimura (Michael Wong Man-Tak) is shot and killed in the line of duty hard-drinking womanizing private eye Ryu Saeba (Jackie Chan) vows to look after (and not seduce) his niece. Years pass and Kaori Makimura (Joey Wong Cho-Yin) now works as his secretary and assistant. Kaori is deeply infatuated with the carefree, funloving Ryu who, of course, is completely oblivious to the fact. One day Ryu is hired by publishing tycoon Koji Imamura (Hagiwara Kenzo) to locate his runaway daughter (and heiress to the business empire) Shizuko (Gotoh Kumiko). Saeba has no interest in the case and politely declines because he hasn’t had breakfast. When he’s handed her picture he’s immediately smitten and readily accepts the job offer. By sheer dumb luck Ryu runs into Shizuko in Hong Kong and after a brief skateboard chase through the city Ryu and Kaori see her board the Fuji Mara luxury cruise liner. Once onboard Kaori is endlessly frustrated that Ryu shows far more interest in romantically pursuing Shizuko instead of safely returning her to her father. Also on board are Hong Kong Police Force officer Saeko Nogami (Chingmy Yau Suk-Ching) who together with her man-crazy bosomy friend (Carol Wan Chui-Pan) is on an undercover operation. When Shizuko accidently overhears that a cadre of terrorists led by Col. Donald "Big Mac" MacDonald (Richard Norton) and his dragon Kim (Gary Daniels) plan to overtake the cruise and rob its wealthy passengers there’s suddenly a price on her head. Ryu, Kaori, and Saeko must spring into action and work together to save the young heiress from harm and diffuse a most dangerous and explosive situation.

And talk of an ensemble cast! The sheer amount of star-power is a wee bit overwhelming here. Headlining is, of course, Jackie Chan, one of the few martial artists since Bruce Lee to cross over into the Western hemisphere, and the less said about his English-language oeuvre the better. The tagline, "he's out of town, out of time, and out of his depth!" rings especially true for Chan. Chow Yun-Fat, Simon Yam Tat-Wah, Anthony Wong, Ekin Cheng Yee-Kin, and Jet Li all can pull off the womanizing, sleazy private eye. Not so with the dopey Chan whose entire public persona is built around his signature jovial, amiable doofus shtick. The second biggest name is probably perennial LWO favorite Joey Wong Cho-Yin (王祖賢), the classic beauty with the puppy eyes and our original HK crush. By that point Joey had appeared in God of Gamblers (1989) and had finished her A Chinese Ghost Story (1987-1991) trilogy with Tsui Hark. Miss Wong had been branching out into HK action and comedy after being typecast as a spectral maiden for far too long. City Hunter gave her the chance to showcase her range. Then there’s Chingmy Yau Suk-Ching (邱淑貞); Wong’s fabled mistress, his muse, and our second crush. Chingmy had starred in Wong's The Crazy Companies (1988), Lee Rock (1991), Casino Tycoon (1992), and Royal Tramp (1992) flagship series as well as his Naked Killer (1992). She had played everything from the silky seductress and the comedic ditz to the gun-wielding action babe. In the years that followed she would star in the Raped by an Angel (1993-1999) sub-series, Future Cops (1993), the wuxia spoof Legend of the Liquid Sword (1993), the failed franchise launcher Kung Fu Cult Master (1993), as well as God of Gamblers Return (1994), the action-comedy High Risk (1995), the dopey rom-com I'm Your Birthday Cake (1995) and on a more in serious note in Stanley Kwan’s Teddy Award-winning drama Hold You Tight (1997).

Carol Wan Chui-Pan (溫翠蘋) and Gotoh Kumiko (後藤久美子) were the prerequisite beauty queens, the former losing her title due to an alleged breast enlargement and the latter retiring in 1995 after just 10 movies. Richard Norton was/is a legend and he starred in everything from Force: Five (1981), Gymkata (1985), American Ninja (1985) and Future Hunters (1988) to China O'Brien (1990) and Lady Dragon (1992). He had worked with Wong before on the amiable Magic Crystal (1986) and had starred in a bunch of Michael Dudikoff action romps, one of which co-stars the always enjoyable Catherine Bell, as well as the Lithuanian Gladiator (2000) knock-off Amazons and Gladiators (2001). Gary Daniels was another Westerner who somehow ended up in Hong Kong. There he shared the screen with Moon Lee in Mission of Justice (1992) and worked with Albert Pyun for his exhausted and exhausting Heatseeker (1995). Rounding out the all-star line-up is Cantopop superstar Leon Lai Ming, who was one of part of the Four Heavenly Kings (along with Jacky Cheung Hok-Yau, Andy Lau Tak-Wah, and Aaron Kwok Fu-Sing). Unfortunately Jing Wong never came around to making his own Cynthia Khan (楊麗青), Sibelle Hu Hui-Chung (胡慧中), or Moon Lee Choi-Fung (李賽鳳) Girls with Guns actioner. That probably would’ve been grand.

This being a Jing Wong romp there’s something for everybody. First and foremost this is a pretty straightforward adaptation of the manga. Then there’s a skateboard chase clearly inspired by the Hill Valley chase in Back to the Future (1985), at least two gambling scenes that could have been from either God of Gamblers (1989) or Casino Tycoon (1992), Colonel MacDonald wields the same gun as RoboCop (1987), there’s even a Bollywood song-and-dance interlude (it never quite reaches Bollywood heights of color and sound, but damn it tries), an extended homage to Bruce Lee and his Game Of Death (1978) involving Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and a aerial dolphin ride modeled after the mobile statues in Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain (1983). More importantly, City Hunter is famous for four things: three major setpieces and Wong’s bovine tendency to showcase each and every female cast member near-constantly in either swimwear, lingerie, or very revealing high-fashion. Joey Wong Cho-Yin and Gotoh Kumiko suffer the least in that regard, but Chingmy Yau Suk-Ching and in particular Carol Wan Chui-Pan (especially her legendary bosom, which might or might not, have led to her termination from a HK beauty pageant) are on display prominently. As late as 2015 he did the same with former Miss Hong Kong 2009 contestant Candy Yuen Ka-Man in his somewhat controversial The Gigolo (2015). As for the setpieces, there’s the Street Fighter cosplay fight with Daniels turning into Ken and Chan dressing up as E. Honda, Guile, and Dhalsim before settling on Chun-Li and doing the signature move/pose of each. Second, there’s the circus act routine wherein Chan acrobatically swings Yau around as she shoots goons left, right, and center – and finally there’s the admittedly funny boss fight between Chan and Norton that sees him incorporating dance routines from Madonna and Michael Jackson into the choreography. It’s not nearly as crazy Rothrock v Norton in Magic Crystal (1986) – but, honestly, what is?

Then there are fast food-related gags were Chan, not having had breakfast and appropriately starving by that point, runs into Carol Wan Chui-Pan at the pool and stares at her lustingly. First at her breasts which he sees as hamburgers, her legs which he thinks are chickenlegs, and finally her arms as chicken wings. Is it puerile? Yeah. Is it bovine? No doubt. It’s disrespectful at best, objectifying at worst, and completely unnecessary to boot. Wong never was below milking his women for all they were worth. Naked Killer (1992) was a valentine to Chingmy Yau Suk-Ching and this one’s all about Carol Wan Chui-Pan and Gotoh Kumiko. If you’re wondering where this sudden obsession with junk food comes from a look at the history of American fast food in China and its place in wider Sino culture at large is necessary. Fast food, and hamburgers in particular, was a fairly new phenomenon in Sino culture. Kentucky Fried Chicken was a true pioneer in that regard and was able to penetrate China’s world-famous hermetic culture by opening a Sino franchise as early as 1987. McDonald’s was brand new only having landed in Beijing a year earlier, in 1992. It certainly speaks to its appeal when Super Lady Cop (1993) was able to get away with imitating both the junk food gag and the Street Fighter shtick wholesale. There was also a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it fast food joke in Naked Killer (1992) but it never landed.

City Hunter is a lot of things. For one, the pace is resolutely breakneck and no gag is dwelled upon more than a few seconds. The action setpieces are explosive and while there may not have been as much heroic bloodshed and bullet ballet shoot-outs as we would have liked, the ones involving Chingmy Yau compensate for a lot. Jackie Chan is his usual self, although here his hyper-kinetic slapstick routines and rubber-faced mugging antics are kept to a bare minimum. It raises the question of what Jing Wong’s Street Fighter would have looked like (Chingmy Yau certainly looked the part in Chun-Li’s blue qipao, as did Cynthia Khan in the expected imitation) or what Hong Kong or Japan would have done with the property. One thing remains undisputed, Jean-Claude Van Damme’s Street Fighter (1994) was terrible by any metric – both as an action movie but especially as an adaptation. In City Hunter the Street Fighter imagery was but a random gag among many and Jing Wong would give Die Hard (1988) a Hong Kong make-over in the form of High Risk (1995) just two years later. Which is a real roundabout way of asking: would anybody still be talking about City Hunter today if it weren’t for the all-star Chinese-Japanese cast and the crass fast food jokes?

Plot: two friends reconnect and engage in a passionate, steamy affair.

Historically there are two ways for directors to get their foot in the door. That’s either by doing a horror (typically a slasher because of how cost efficient they tend to be) or a raunchy comedy. Miguel Chávez chose the latter for his debut and My Cousin the Sexologist (released domestically as Mi Prima La Sexòloga) marketed itself as “erotic comedy” while nothing comedic ever actually transpires. To nobody’s surprise it was critically savaged and subject of some controversy back at home in Bolivia because of its crude depiction of sexuality and relationships. Both the director and lead star drew the ire of various domestic women’s interests groups and feminist organizations. My Cousin the Sexologist is frustratingly episodic and completely uneventful, and when it’s not it frequently forgets what it is supposed, or promises, to be. Despite all that it was somehow deemed commercially viable enough to secure a domestic theatrical release. The controversy was strong enough to generate interest outside of Bolivia and allegedly at some point there were talks for an American spin-off. It has found its way onto various on-demand and streaming services around the world since. If nothing else, it’s custodian to the urban hit song 'Dale No Pares' by MaJeLo (for which Chávez directed the music video, with Stephanie Herela co-starring). Not bad for a cheap shot-on-video drama resembling a 90-minute pilot to an unproduced telenovella.

Chávez had earlier directed the controversial “100% cuero” ad campaign for Corimexo furniture that lasted (and continues to last) several years. The ads featured popular domestic models Maricruz Rivera (2007), Gabriela Catoira (2009), Pamela Justiniano (2012), and Daniela Lopez (2012) cavorting and lounging around in skimpy lingerie or sometimes even less. The most famous model to appear in said campaign was Stephanie Herela. Herela participated in the 2014 Miss Bolivian Tropic beauty pageant, underwent liposuction and breast enlargement either sometime before or after, and from there parlayed her newfound fame into a lucrative career as brand ambassador, corporate hostess, social media influencer, television personality, dancer, and all-around internet babe. As the Bolivian Stormi Maya or Fernanda Urrejola (with all the curves but without any of the talent) it was all but inevitable that la Stephanie would take up acting. Not only would she star in Chávez’ debut feature, but she would also do her own make-up and provide her own wardrobe. In return Chávez bombarded her to executive producer position as a bonus. Likewise is Kimberly Aguilera also a popular Instagram model but she not nearly has the same clout as Herela has.

Manuel (Andrès Salvatierra) is a bachelor living in the province of Beni who for the past several days has been receiving persistent anonymous calls on his cell phone. His roommate and best friend Marco (Majelo Quiroz) suggests he answer the next call to see what all the fuzz is about. Before long his cell is ringing again and on the other end he hears the sensual voice of Maria Helena or Malena (Stephanie Herela), the girl who he had been carrying a torch for and who he hasn’t seen in over a decade, informing him that she’s now a “well-known and popular” sexologist in Buenos Aires, Argentina and that she will be returning to her old stomping grounds in Santa Cruz for a two-week vacation. Malena invites Manuel over to her studio so they can have a few laughs, some drinks, and catch up on old times and each other’s lives. On the first night the two exchange the usual formalities and there’s electricity in the air. Malena brings up the idea to meet again as much as they can over the next two weeks. Malena is struggling to apply her studies in a way that her family can understand, and what better subject than her good friend Manuel? Manuel, bewildered that an attractive woman like Malena would be interested in him, is so distracted that he completely forgets about the dinner date he agreed to with his ex-girlfriend Verónica (Kimberly Aguilera) which understandably leads to some friction between the two. Over the next two weeks Manuel continues to see Malena and the two engage in a passionate affair. Manuel and Malena go shopping in company of his son Manuelito (Thiago Ribera) and Malena introduces him to her metro/homosexual best friend Francesco (Joaquín Machado Foianini) who, of course, makes a pass on him. Will Malena follow her heart and be with Manuel or follow the money and prioritize her career as a sexologist?

What started as a pithless exercise in comedy that makes the Gloria Guida canon look like that of Laura Antonelli suddenly and without warning explodes into a instructional feature. My Cousin the Sexologist devotes most of its second act to Herela explaining (in easily manageable 5-10 minute vignettes, ideal for classroom usage) half a dozen sexuality - and psychology-related concepts in a pseudo-scientific manner. Which, by all means, is a good thing since sexual education in Latin America differs greatly from country to country, and is non-existent wherever religious institutions are the arbiters of morality. This, after all, is not a shameless “exposé” on the School Girl Report (1970) model but an instructional feature for which there was a widespread and specialized market in the forties and fifties before the advent of television. After that brief detour My Cousin the Sexologist regains its composure and awkwardly limps to the conclusion. It will make you wish for the humid sleaze of Eleven Days Eleven Nights (1987) and Top Model (1988), the playfulness of the average Gloria Guida romp, the zaniness of an Edwige Fenech bedroom farçe, or the sensual scabbiness of an Isabel Sarli flick. None of which My Cousin the Sexologist has. At least there’s Stephanie Herela and her pneumatically enhanced and frequently disrobed form. Not even that is enough to save My Cousin the Sexologist from feeling directionless and on the wrong side of cheap.

The screenplay was written over a two-month period in late 2015 and early 2016. Production was scheduled for eight weeks from March into April that year with a skeleton cast and crew consisting largely of enthusiastic volunteers and first-timers in front as well as behind the camera. Post-release Herela found herself in hot water for appearing in the Corimexo ad campaign that had her lounging around furniture in the nude. This, understandably, generated criticism from women’s interests groups and feminist organizations. One such group Mujeres Creando filed a formal complaint against executives of Corimexo and director Miguel Chávez for psychological and media violence. Protests erupted both on social media and on a grass roots level with the collective outrage effecting the removal of the ad from various platforms and Corimexo censoring the advertisement for their special collection of sofas and leather chairs. Miguel Chávez hasn’t directed anything since, and in 2017 Herela produced/starred in a web mini-series called El Sexo Según Stephanie (or Sex According to Stephanie) and has continued to prosper as both a model and as an influencer on social media.

Which sort of brings up our second point of contention: how can a Bolivian production not exploit the palm trees, sunny beaches, and cultural hotspots to its advantage? Herela’s bikini pictures are the stuff of legend - and not once is she seen sporting one. My Cousin the Sexologist takes place in beautiful Santa Cruz yet is almost exclusively set in a featureless condominium complex and one street that could be literally anywhere. This is a problem that could have easily been solved by the inclusion of royalty-free stock footage or a bout of guerrilla filmmaking. Cine-S classic The Hot Girl Juliet (1981) (with Eva Lyberten, Andrea Albani, and Vicky Palmas) was at least as dirt cheap – and even they took to the beaches and to the streets in between the bedroom scenes. The Room (2003) has higher production values, as does the median Emanuelly Raquel, Lorena Brink, or Reya Reign video for that matter. Hell, even Neil Breen is not nearly as cheap as this. On the plus side, if you want to learn the ins and outs of Bolivian Spanish allegedly the enunciation here is very clear. Supposedly My Cousin the Sexologist provides excellent examples of speech, sayings and slang for adult Spanish learners. When that’s not the case Herela’s wiggling her huge plump ass, or Salvatierra is taking his shirt off.

It’s bad enough when a comedy isn’t funny and it’s even worse when a soft erotic romp isn’t sexy. My Cousin the Sexologist fails miserably on both counts. No wonder then that la Herela has quietly shelved whatever acting aspirations she had. What has become of Miguel Chávez is presently unclear. It would be entirely plausible that he quit the film business altogether after this debacle and returned to the world of advertising. Either that, or he has been brooding on a new project in the years since. What is clear is that Stephanie Herela could be so much more than just a model and influencer, if somebody would only hire her in a feature that played up to her strengths. Here’s hoping that Benjamin Combes, Pedring A. Lopez, or Ernesto Díaz Espinoza will see it fit to bring Herela out of retirement for a proposed sequel to Commando Ninja (2018), Maria (2019), or Bring Me the Head Of the Machine Gun Woman (2012). Either that or Rene Perez should consider her (and Kimberly Aguilera, for that matter) for the next episode in his ongoing Playing with Dolls and/or Cabal (2020) sagas. If Christina Lindberg, Gloria Guida, and Andrea Albani could have careers, why not Stephanie?