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Plot: three friends order custom-built robot girlfriends. Hilarity ensues!

For the last quarter century Hong Kong producer, director, screenwriter, and actor Jing Wong has been a force to be reckoned with. His natural affinity in catering to audience tastes and his eye for female beauty made him one of the consistently profitable cinema industry powers. Since starting out in the early-to-mid eighties Wong has capitalized on every fad, movement, and big budget Hollywood movie of note and gave them his own unique Hong Kong spin. He launched the careers of Chow Yun-Fat, Jet Li, Andy Lau, and Stephen Chow. In the eighties and nineties he introduced Chingmy Yau Suk-Ching, Joey Wong, Sharla Cheung Man, Brigitte Lin, and Valerie Chow to the world. In more recent times he has worked with Maggie Q, Jennifer Tse Ting-Ting, and Candy Yuen Ka-Man. Towards the close of the nineties Wong’s features have been slumming at the domestic box office and he has since focused on the Mainland China market. Ever the crowd-pleaser Jing Wong returns his old stomping ground of the broad comedy, and as such iGirl (夢情人) is both boorish and sentimental in equal measure.

Never shy about capitalizing about an ongoing cinematic trend Wong uses the 2005 six-volume manga 絶対彼氏 or Zettai Kareshi (or Absolute Boyfriend) from Yuu Watase as the basis for iGirl. iGirl, of course, being his broad comedy take on the ongoing, decade-long (and counting) Mainland China cyborg girlfriend craze following the release of Jae-young Kwak’s seminal My Girlfriend Is A Cyborg (2008) with Haruka Ayase and Hirokazu Kore’eda’s humanist fairytale Air Doll (2009) with Bae Doo-na. iGirl is built from the I’m Your Birthday Cake (1996) template in that it mixes romance with broad comedy. The slapstick never gets quite as odious as some of Wong’s more irritatingly juvenile comedies, and it’s certainly a lot better of what passes for comedy in Mainland China, but that doesn’t change that iGirl is pretty terrible at times. The star, and much of the focal point, of iGirl is Chrissie Chau Sau-Na (周秀娜). Chau has worked her way up from the dregs of Mainland China cinema and iGirl was the first sign her career was finally moving forward. Whether or not she’ll become the new Jing Wong muse is up for debate, but it’s good seeing Chrissie in something that isn’t monitored by the Film Bureau for once. Chrissie is a decent enough actress, she cuts a dashing figure (something of which Wong is acutely aware) – but many of her movies rarely played up to her strenghts. This was sweet Chrissie’s first truly big break.

Lin Xiao-Feng (Ekin Cheng Yee-Kin), Johnny (Dominic Ho Hou-Man), and Zhu Yun (Lam Tze-Chung) are lifelong friends that continue to live in a state of arrested adolescence. One night the three go out clubbing and find themselves dumped by their respective girlfriends. The three drink and dance the night away to forget about their current amorous predicament. Lin Xiao-Feng (Evan in some versions), the most upwardly mobile of the trio, in his drunken stupor orders his dreamgirl from a site called “Get Your Dream iGirl” by typing in a few meager criteria. Believing the enterprise to be a practical joke he’s surprised when his order is shipped and delivered overnight. After following the instructions of the iGirl manual his new companion 001 (Chrissie Chau Sau-Na) comes to life. Johnny and Zhu Yun (Irwin in some versions) are astonished by the functionality, adaptability, and compatibility of Evan’s cybernetic companion and immediately see the possibilities. The two order their own iGirl and before long 002 (Connie Man Hoi-Ling) and 003 (Joyce Cheng Yan-Yi) complete the trio’s social circle. With their new cyborg girlfriends at their side the three men have the time of their life, much to the chagrin of their former girlfriends. Janice (Jeana Ho Pui-Yu), Chili (Iris Chung Choi-Hei), and Rebecca (Yam Giu) break into the iGirl laboratory, nearly killing iGirl creator Dr. Intelligent (Anders Nelsson) in the process, kidnapping their ex-boyfriends, and vowing to exact their revenge on the iGirls.

Director Kam Ka-Wai assistant directed under Wilson Yip Wai-Shun on Ip Man (2008) and under Marco Mak Chi-Sin on Naked Soldier (2012). It’s never a question of whether Kam Ka-Wai is competent enough to helm a production of this kind. If anything iGirl is hampered by Jing Wong’s retrograde writing. It could have been a lot worse, certainly, but that doesn’t excuse the lazy writing in the slightest. Most of the cast all worked with Jing Wong on prior occassions. Ekin Cheng Yee-Kin worked with Wong as far back as the lamentable Future Cops (1993) with Chingmy Yau Suk-Ching and the original Young and Dangerous (1995). Chrissie Chau is known around these parts for her triple role in the low-key and occassionally atmospheric Lift to Hell (2013). Ekin Cheng Yee-Kin and Chau shared the screen in Break Up 100 (2014) whereas Dominic Ho and Connie Man were paired up earlier in The Gigolo 2 (2016). Chrissie Chau Sau-Na, and Iris Chung Choi-Hei worked together earlier on Mr. and Mrs. Player (2013). Had this been released in the eighties or nineties Wong would probably have played Lam Tze-Chung’s role himself. The sole action scene in the third act was choreographed by Jack Wong Wai-Leung and his two decades of experience are clearly visible on screen. Comedy and action after all have been Wong’s trusted allies since he started out in the mid-1980s. If there’s ever going to be a fourth Naked installment we wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest if it ends up starring Chrissie Chau Sau-Na. The Naked franchise has been insteady decline since Naked Weapon (2002) and she might just be what is needed to restore the series to its former Naked Killer (1992) glory.

Mainland China comedies are hit-or-miss, and romantic comedies even moreso. The ascent of the Film Bureau and production companies as Q1Q2 have spawned a swamp of comedies that are either irritating in their reliance on slapstick, cheap beyond description, or plain lacking in any sort of talent – or a combination of all three. iGirl is good enough for what it is but it never had any artistic aspirations as, say, Suddenly Seventeen (2016) with Ni Ni. Neither, for that matter, does it lower itself to the slapstick absurdities of Fetching Nurses (2018). Chrissie Chau Sau-Na conforms to the beauty ideal of every Jing girl following that of his one-time mistress and longtime muse Chingmy Yau Suk-Ching and it’s telling that only she has an isolated nude scene (optically fogged out in the domesic cut for all the obvious reasons). At times it feels as if Connie Man Hoi-Ling is but a placeholder for Candy Yuen Ka-Man. The casting of plus-size Joyce Cheng Yan-Yi is good in that it sets the stage for the casting of rounder girls as, Yang Ke (杨可) and Zhu Ke Er (朱可儿) in Wong productions. Yan-Yi’s father is Adam Cheng Siu-Chow (鄭少秋) from Tsui Hark’s Zu: The Warriors from the Magic Mountain (1983). iGirl obviously gets the most mileage out of Chau Sau-Na and Hoi-Ling and at no point does Yan-Yi get traded in for a slimmer model. It’s probably a matter of time before we’ll see Mavis Pan Shuang-Shuang (潘霜霜), Frieda Hu Meng-Yuan (胡梦媛), and the considerably more A-list Ada Liu Yan (柳岩), turn up in a Jing Wong production. Equal but opposite maybe one day we’ll see Pan Chun Chun (潘春春) in a Sino comedy or action feature that actually knows what to do with her.

There’s something inherently funny about Chrissie Chau Sau-Na, an actress frequently lambasted for her robotic acting, playing a robot. Chrissie’s far better than people are willing to give her credit for. The truth is if you were to accuse anyone of stilted and minimalist non-acting Miki Zhang Yi-Gui (张已桂) is the actress to look for. Not that Chrissie’s one of the great new Chinese actresses. Betty Sun Li and Ni Ni, to name but two, are way more versatile and talented than Chrissie will ever be. The problem that Chrissie, and many Chinese actresses like her, has is that she’s only fluent in Cantonese and Mandarin. On her social media Chrissie can be seen posting in English from time to time but her usage of it is rare enough to make it an outlier. Unlike Fan Bingbing, Yu Nan, or Ni Ni, few commandeer the language well enough to appeal to Western audiences and most only are fluent in their national languages. Elder stateswoman Gong Li famously rejected a Hollywood career because she didn’t command the language well enough, as did Chiaki Kuriyama (who’s Japanese, but the point stands). Unfortunately the same rings true for South Korean television actresses as Shin Min-a (신민아), Ko Sung-hee (고성희), and Chae Soo-bin (채수빈) who should have pierced the Western cultural landscape by now, but somehow haven’t. In times of globalism China and the Koreas remain staunchly isolationist. In any case iGirl has elevated Chrissie Chau Sau-Na to the mainstream and Master Z: Ip Man Legacy (2018) from director Yuen Wo-Ping is probably her most prestigious project yet. Not too bad of an career advancement for a girl that spent a decade or so in the dregs of Chinese cinema.

The other retroactively famous star was the late Yam Giu (Xiong Hua-Hua, Zhiyi Ren, or Ren Jiao, depending on your preference) who passed away on October 16, 2017 after falling (under dubious circumstances) from the 13th floor balcony of the Howard Johnson All Suites hotel in Suzhou, Jiangsu Province. At the time Yam Giu (who sort of looked like, but is not, Angelababy) was staying at a different hotel and merely visiting her actor-friend Yang Xuwen who was in the city for filming. Yam Giu had been romantically linked with Yang Xuwen and was visiting the city with her mother. On the morning of October 16 her nude body was discovered on the hotel lawn and immediately led to widespread speculation about the circumstances surrounding her passing. Everything from alcoholism to suicidal depression was mentioned in the tabloid press, yet as of 2017 no clear cause of death was determined. One of the last productions that Yam Giu was involved with was the Fang Mo horror-action trilogy Hello, Mr. Vampire (2016), Hello, Ms. Vampire (2016) and Beauty in the Doomsday (2017). Perhaps Yam Giu could have been a Chinese superstar, perhaps not. Just like Iberian cult queen Soledad Miranda in 1970 Yam Giu was cut down in her prime.

After the controversial The Gigolo (2015) and its 2016 sequel iGirl seems incredibly restrained in comparison. Connie Man Hoi-Ling and Iris Chung Choi-Hei both are allowed to keep their clothes on. For the majority of the feature Hoi-Ling wears a deeply cut red dress while Chrissie Chau Sau-Na has the most diverse wardrobe and Joyce Cheng Yan-Yi the exact opposite. The Jing girls are as gorgeous as they’ve ever been and the grandmaster hasn’t lost his eye for spotting promising female talent. iGirl is one of Wong’s better romantic comedies in the post-Chingmy Yau age and it’s good seeing reliable second-tiers as Chrissie Chau Sau-Na in a leading role. Granted, iGirl doesn’t give her a whole lot to work with, but that’s hardly a fault of her own. To go from Lift to Hell (2013) and The Extreme Fox (2013) to this must be called progress. That she won the Hong Kong Film Award for Best Actress for her film 29+1 (2017) a year later was indicative that her career was at long last going places. Chau Sau-Na should probably do another Kick Ass Girls (2013) or full-blown Girls with Guns action movie, whether it’s in Hong Kong or Mainland China. Obviously iGirl isn’t the new Jing Wong comedy classic. The writing’s immensely retrograde and the comedy seldom hits the mark. All things considered iGirl is more than decent enough for what it is. In the wildly divergent and fluctuating robot girfriend subgenre; you could do far, far worse than this…

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?