Skip to content

Plot: cops travel back in time to stop top criminal in the past

Nobody had a greater gift for anticipating what audiences might want than Hong Kong exploitation mogul Jing Wong. Seeing the worldwide success of Nintendo arcade beat-em-up Street Fighter II: the World Warrior (1991) Wong set to adapt the property for the big screen. In the resultant bidding war the rights went to Jackie Chan. Chan put these newly acquired copyrights to good use in his City Hunter (1993). There he, and not Joey Wong or Chingmy Yau Suk-Ching as you'd reasonably expect/hope, ended up in Chun-Li's signature blue qipao. Undeterred by not obtaining the necessary licensing he quickly rewrote the screenplay for his Street Fighter II: the World Warrior adaptation as pre-production was already under way. Thus came to be Future Cops, an action-comedy where pretty much nothing makes sense and where juvenile humor is the order of the day. If you thought the American Street Fighter (1994) was terrible, pray to the god of your choosing that Jing Wong never got his way. At least Chingmy Yau, Charlie Yeung and Winnie Lau brighten up this barely coherent romp.

In the far-flung future of 2043 criminal mastermind The General (Ken Lo Wai-Kwong) is incarcerated in a high-tech prison. His cronies, The Future Rascals, Thai King (Billy Chow Bei-Lei), Toyota (William Duen Wai-Lun) and Kent (Ekin Cheng Yee-Kin) have created a time machine to travel to 1993. There they will kill Yu Ti Hung, the judge that imprisoned The General in their own time. The Future Rascals are assailed by the Future Cops, a team of law enforcement officers comprising of Ti Man (Andy Lau Tak-Wah), Broom Man (Jacky Cheung Hok-Yau), Sing (Simon Yam Tat-Wah) and Lung (Aaron Kwok Fu-Sing). The Future Rascals manage to transport themselves to 1993 and the Future Cops are ordered by their department’s highest-ranking commander (Newton Lai Hon-Chi) to apprehend, arrest and detain the fugitive felons no matter what the cost. The General is too much of a high-priority target to be allowed to run amok. Thus the Future Cops are given permission to travel all the way back to 1993 when The General was nothing but a dopey high school student.

Tai Chun (Dicky Cheung Wai-Kin) is your average 24 year-old student at St. Yuk Keung high school in Hong Kong. He’s relentlessly mocked by bully Yu Kei-On (Andy Hui Chi-On) and his gang of misfits. At home he is constantly berated by his popular high school sister Chun May (Chingmy Yau Suk-Ching), their high-strung mother Mrs. Chun (Kingdom Yuen King-Tan) and her beau (Richard Ng Yiu-Hon). About the only thing that keeps poor Tai Chun alive is his unrequited love for Choy Nei (Charlie Yeung Choi-Nei), a crush he has been harboring for probably far too long. Tai Chun’s world is thrown upside down when the Future Cops land on his roof. After a bit of back-and-forth he agrees to help them find The General – but only if the Future Cops offer him protection and help him improve his reputation and standing in school while they’re there anyway.

Thus each member of the Future Cops goes undercover at Chun’s high school. Broom Man infiltrates by pretending to be a teacher. He breaks into song in the middle of class and makes a pass on student Siu Wai (Winnie Lau Siu-Wai). Ti Man pretends to be a student and quickly catches the eye of Tai Chun’s sister Chun May. Sing agrees to be Tai Chun’s loyal servant if only to protect him from the gang of bullies. Hilarity ensues when Siu Wai, the girlfriend of Kei On, falls head over heels in love with Tai Chun. While all of this is going on, this leaves the Future Cops with one problem: who is The General and how will they find him? An 11th hour plot twist not only reveals his identity, but pits the Future Cops in a fierce battle against the Future Rascals in a conclusion so in(s)ane it defies mere description.

Future Cops is the kind of movie that could only be made in Hong Kong by Jing Wong and still secure a theatrical release. Words cannot properly convey how utterly deranged and out-there Future Cops truly is. Granted, you’ll have to endure an hour’s worth of puerile situational comedy, unfunny puns/quips and kitschy gags straight out of The Inspector Wears Skirts and the main plot is liberally scribbled from Gordon Chan’s Fight Back to School (1991). Future Cops is bookended by two fairly impressive fightscene setpieces, but they are seperated by an hour’s worth of plot. On the other hand where are you going to see Winnie Lau, Charlie Yeung, Kingdom Yuen King-Tan, and Chingmy Yau together in the same movie? Where else are you going to see Chingmy Yau dressed up as Luigi Mario from Super Mario Bros and a grown-up Fanny Leung Maan-Yee from Infra-Man (1975) as one of the student body at St. Yuk Keung? In the end Tai Chung gains superpowers and transforms into Goku from Dragon Ball Z. It makes Wellson Chin Sing-Wai’s Super Lady Cop (1992) with Cynthia Khan look positively sane and measured in comparison. Il faut le faire...

The only reason that Future Cops has garnered any kind of longevity is thanks to its inherent insanity. The finer details of the plot make no sense and the Future Rascals only dress up as Street Fighter II: the World Warrior (1991) characters because the costumes were already made when production began. Chingmy Yau was no Brigitte Lin and certainly no Gong Li but as a reliable second-stringer the sheer variety of roles that she played over the years are testament to her versatility as an actress. Yau appeared in everything from gambling movies and romantic dramas to dopey comedies and about anything in between. She was in everything from Casino Tycoon (1992) and God of Gamblers Return (1994), and fantasy wuxia send-ups Legend of the Liquid Sword (1993) and Kung Fu Cult Master (1993) to laugh-a-minute action romps as Naked Killer (1992), City Hunter (1993) and High Risk (1995). Future Cops winks, nods and liberally borrows from everything from Back to the Future 2 (1989), and Ghost (1990), to Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) and Demolition Man (1993). The screenplay barely makes sense and Wong has no interest in pursuing any of its better ideas. Future Cops plows mercilessly forward; logic and coherence be damned. Not all the jokes are funny, and they seem to miss the mark more often than they don't. In one of the funnier scenes Chingmy Yau can be seen shaking her petite derrière. No wonder Wong loved her...

To say that Future Cops is acquired taste is understating just how insane it occasionally gets. It often feels as three different movies choppily edited together in only a way Hong Kong would attempt. The tonal shifts are sudden and frequently jarring making the quirkier indulgences of comedy specialist Wellson Chin Sing-Wai’s Super Lady Cop (1992) look measured in comparison. Future Cops begins as a scifi-action movie before turning into a high school comedy (complete with slapstick humor and cartoony sound effects) in between segments of hastily edited in down-market chopsocky action. The situational – and slapstick comedy is hopelessly puerile (as you would expect of Wong) and that Future Cops depends so much on it is to its everlasting detriment. The Magic Crystal (1986) also mixed genres, but was far more elegant in doing so. The screenplay is a barely coherent mess that cannot even be redeemed by the electrifying presence of Wong babes Chingmy Yau, Winnie Lau, and Charlie Yeung. Future Cops is both disparate and desperate to make something, anything, of what in a better world should have been an official Street Fighter adaptation. Future Cops is a lot of things, but it clearly wasn't Jing Wong's finest moment.

Plot: martial artists from all over the world compete in tournament on remote island

There are two kinds of American martial arts movies. Those that came before The Matrix (1999) and those that came after. The former are brutish slogs where the fights more resemble brawls with sluggish choreography and no sense of rhythm and pacing. Often times the fights in these movies tend to be heavily cut and edited because the actors in question have no formal background in martial arts. Even when the performers had a background in the arts (such as Jean-Claude Van Damme, Steven Seagal, or Olivier Gruner) western martial arts movies tend to be rather slow relying far more on blunt power than on technical expertise. The latter more Asian inclined variants are far more elegant, acrobatic, and fast-moving with professional combatants engaging in elaborate hand-to-hand and weapon-based action routines. DOA: Dead Or Alive thankfully leans more towards the Asian variant and is about as ridiculous as it is entertaining.

DOA: Dead Or Alive (hereafter DOA) has something of a bad rep. Undeservedly as far as we’re concerned. As a western, English-language martial arts movie there are far worse offenders. DOA takes the Mortal Kombat (1995) template and adds a healthy dose of Hong Kong action choreography and wire-fu to spice things up. DOA is what Street Fighter (1994) should have been. DOA was produced by Paul W.S. Anderson on an estimated budget of $21 million with Corey Yuen directing and Devon Aoki, Jaime Pressly, Holly Valance, Natassia Malthe, and Sarah Carter starring. Perhaps Anderson was hoping to capture lightning a second time the way he did with his Mortal Kombat (1995) some eleven years earlier. Unfortunately DOA made only around $7.5 million - just over a third of its budget - at the box office; and all intended sequels in the new franchise were summarily scrapped. It wouldn’t be until Tekken (2010) before another fighting game came to the big screen. Alas, Rare/Midway’s cartoonishly over-the-top Killer Instinct from 1994 remains without a much-overdue Hollywood treatment for reasons unknown.

Based on the Japanese video game series created by Tomonobu Itagaki for Tecmo DOA is a more or less faithful recreation of the plot from 1999’s Dead Or Alive 2. It features all the beloved characters in their signature costumes and as a bonus of sorts there’s an extended segment dedicated to its legendary 2003 spinoff Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball for good measure. There couldn’t be anything more typically Japanese than Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball where the player plays and interacts with giggling babes with oversized oppai in miniscule candy-colored bikinis. It’s fanservice taken to the ultimate extreme. It’s a thing that could only come from Japan where the near-transactional adoration and adulation of prepubescent - and adolescent girls as Idols (gravure and otherwise) has spawned a booming and very lucrative (multi-billion yen annually) otaku industry. DOA has the babes, the pastel-colored bikinis, and the volleyball. The oppai on the other hand are rather modest. In fact DOA barely scratches the surface on that end. Otherwise it is a fun martial arts romp with some lovably zany production design.

Four martial artists from different walks of life are invited to partake in a clandestine 4-day tournament somewhere in Asia. Princess Kasumi (Devon Aoki) is a kunoichi that leaves her colony to look for her brother Hayate (Collin Chou Siu-Lung). Following her are Ryu Hayabusa (Kane Kosugi) and her half-sister Ayane (Natassia Malthe), the former as her security detail and the latter on a mission to kill the Princess for disgracing her clan. Tina Armstrong (Jaime Pressly) - whose wardrobe seems to exclusively consist of a Union Jack bikini and a very short pair of blue jeans – sees it as a springboard to prove her legitimacy as a fighter and that she’s not the phony she’s often accused of being. Tagging along is her father Bass Armstrong (Kevin Nash). Christie Allen (Holly Valance) is a British master thief and assassin who not only has her eye on the $10 million price money but also on an alleged treasure hidden somewhere on the island. Along with her partner Maximillian Marsh (Matthew Marsden) the two accept the invitation. Lastly, Helena Douglas (Sarah Carter) is the daughter of the original DOA tournament organiser and the object of affection of DOA tech head Weatherby (Steve Howey). Douglas is distrustful of Dr. Victor Donovan (Eric Roberts) who now runs DOA.

The two American name-stars of DOA are Devon Aoki and Jaime Pressly. Aoki started as a model in music videos from Duran Duran, Primal Scream, Ludacris and Genuwine. Naturally that led Devon to an acting career with semi-memorable turns in 2 Fast 2 Furious (2003), D.E.B.S. (2004) and Sin City (2005). Jaime Pressly also started as a model but soon carved out a career in low-brow comedies, thrillers, and the occassional horror with Poison Ivy: The New Seduction (1997), Can't Hardly Wait (1998), Not Another Teen Movie (2001), and Demon Island (2002). Less known but not any less popular was Australian actress Holly Valance who began her career in the soap opera Neighbours (from whence Kylie Minogue, Jason Donovan, and Natalie Imbruglia came) but didn’t flirt with the mainstream until the new millennium. In 2002 she released the hit single ‘Kiss Kiss’, an English reworking of the 1997 original Tarkan hit single ‘Şımarık’, from her debut album “Footprints”. As far as millennial dance-pop went Valance was a rival for the likes of Rachel Stevens and Gabriella Cilmi.

Compared to her peers Canadian television actress Sarah Carter was a relative nobody with only a supporting part in Final Destination 2 (2003) to her name. Natassia Malthe (one of the many victims of predatory producer Harvey Weinstein) was in Disturbing Behavior (1998), Halloween: Resurrection (2002), Elektra (2005) and via BloodRayne II: Deliverance (2007), Alone in the Dark II (2008) and BloodRayne: The Third Reich (2011) now seems to dwell permanently in direct-to-video, low budget hell. Collin Chou Siu-Lung is primarily known in the Western hemisphere for his roles as Seraph in The Matrix Reloaded (2003) and The Matrix Revolutions (2003) as well as the Jade Warlord in The Forbidden Kingdom (2008). Around these parts he's remembered for the Mainland China action romps Angel Warriors (2013) and Ameera (2014) from the Film Bureau. Eric Roberts, of course, is the old school professional who has been acting since 1964. DOA was shortly before his career revival with Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight (2008) and Sylvester Stallone’s all-star 80s action throwback The Expendables (2010).

There was more than enough fanservice in terms of costumes in the Dead Or Alive series and even moreso in its Xtreme Beach Volleyball parallel franchise. DOA takes its sweet time relishing in all the beautiful women that frequently populate the screen. It’s the kind of fanservice that's never exploitative. The two most obvious instances are the introduction of the four leads and the friendly volleyball match in the second act. Where else are you going to see Holly Valance in nothing but a towel laying waste to some faceless goons before putting her lingerie back on? The original scene had Valance topless when she came out of the shower and fully nude during the actual fight. To secure a PG-13 rating the scene was censored in post-production. Then there’s Jaime Pressly in a tiny bikini meting out punishment to a group of pirates while adrift at sea, the pirate leader who is none other than Robin Shou from Mortal Kombat (1995). The beach volleyball segment contains enough ass – and chest shots to satiate anybody’s cravings while the actual bouncing is fairly minimal. As much as Xtreme Beach Volleyball revolutionized jiggle physics those hoping to see Chinese belles as Zhu Ke Er, Yang Ke, Mavis Pan Shuang-Shuang, Liu Zhimin, Daniella Wang Li Danni, Miki Zhang Yi-Gui, and Pan Chun Chun, or one of their 2006 equivalents, among the volleyball playing extras will be sorely disappointed. None such thing will be forthcoming.

The action direction and choreography from Guo Jian-Yong puts DOA leagues above Street Fighter (1994) and Mortal Kombat (1995). The various duels are hard-hitting, energetic and fast-paced with shorter or longer routines and wire-fu that capitalize maximally on the girls’ elegance and athleticism. Of course it would be folly to expect from Aoki, Pressly, Valance and Carter to match themselves with Angela Mao, Michelle Yeoh, Moon Lee, or Cynthia Khan. Director Corey Yuen was a veteran from the Peking Opera School and one of the members of The Seven Little Fortunes that also included Sammo Hung Kam-Bo, Jackie Chan, and Yuen Biao. Yuen was in the Tsui Hark fantasy wuxia Zu: The Warriors from the Magic Mountain (1983) and made a name for himself in North America through his films with Jet Li. He might not be as well-known in the western hemisphere as Yuen Woo-ping and Ching Siu-tung. Yuen Woo-ping will forever be associated with the Wachowski’s cyberpunk action classic The Matrix (1999) and Ching Siu-tung for his work on A Chinese Ghost Story (1987), Hero (2002), House of Flying Daggers (2004), as well as the Hindi superhero masalas Krrish (2006), and Krrish 3 (2013).

DOA is a guilty pleasure of the purest sort. It’s not the kind of movie you watch for the story in the first place. Holly Valance looks great in lingerie and in a bikini. Devon Aoaki can’t really act and Jaime Pressly is about the worst American stereotype imagineable. Sarah Carter looks really adorable and Eric Roberts visibly enjoys himself chewing scenery while surrounded by beautiful women. The orange-pink-purple production design is a feast to behold and that DOA occassionally mimics its videogame counterpart makes it all the more fun. That’s perhaps DOA’s greatest forté, it never takes itself too seriously. DOA knows that it’s rank pulp and what little plot there was is mere pretext to showcase the four leads in their signature costumes. As far as we’re concerned DOA is the StarCrash (1978) of Hollywood martial arts movies. DOA is all about fun and as a martial arts exercise it’s better than it has any reason to be. DOA’s bad rep is not unfounded but that doesn’t make it any less of an entertaining action romp for a lazy afternoon.