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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.