Even though superstar Brigitte Lin Ching-Hsia headlined art-house dramas, fantasy blockbusters and New Wave classics from Peking Opera Blues (1986) to Chungking Express (1995), die-hard kung fu fans still swear she never made a better movie than Golden Queens Commando. A wacky kung fu/women-in-prison/spaghetti western/gothic horror twist on The Dirty Dozen (1967), it remains one of the great Asian cult movies.
Set in a time-warp fantasyland wherein World War II somehow co-exists with punk rock fashions, wu xia (“swordplay novel”) plot twists, and trappings from James Bond, Tarzan and samurai movies, this opens with notorious freedom fighter Black Fox (Brigitte Lin Ching-Hsia, very chic in a wooly hat and eye-patch) - “scourge of mobsters from Hong Kong to Chicago” - dragged into a P.O.W. camp run by Chinese Nazis. Fox is first in our crack squad of nutty, gorgeous women, introduced with mini-bios listing their names, ages and crimes…
Gothic chick Black Cat (Elsa Yeung Wai-San) packs a pistol in her bible that scares off an angry gambler in a scene parodying the intro to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969). Leopard-skin bikini clad Amazon (Teresa Tsui Jun-Jun) bests two giant sumo wrestlers and winds up in a Japanese jail cell. Alcoholic samurai waif Brandy (Hilda Liu Hao-Yi) lets Nazi soldiers fondle her boobs in exchange for money to buy booze, then slaughters them all with her lethal karate and sword skills. High class whore Sugar Plum (sporting a Southern accent!) stabs a tight-fisted john to death. Sharp-suited juvenile delinquent Quicksilver (Silvia Peng Xue Fen) picks pockets for a living. And sexy, no-nonsense Dynamite (Cantopop icon Sally Yeh, famous as the blind girl in The Killer (1989)) blows up a bandits’ hideout and spears bad guys by spitting toothpicks.
These crime-loving gals assemble at a women’s prison where inmates sport sexy mini-uniforms and would-be escapees are fried on an electrified fence. “Let us remember we are a big happy family. This warm heart of mine cares for all of you!” croons the camp commandant (Hui Bat-Liu). In a serious of wacky, yet subtly ingenious episodes, ranging from a food fight to a slow-mo basketball game (elegantly filmed and scored with classical music), Black Fox identifies each girl’s individual weakness then plays tricks so all are confined in the same cell. They bond and stage a daring breakout, whereupon Black Fox leads everyone back to her palatial mansion and unveils her master plan: to seek out and destroy the enemy’s top secret chemical warfare lab.
Yet the film is more than just a pick and mix romp through cult cinema. It’s a rattling thrill-ride that deftly melds jaw-dropping stunts, gory horror and tear-jerking pathos. The female bonding proves surprisingly affecting thanks to the sincerity of its top-flight actresses. Brigitte Lin Ching-Hsia commands the screen with near-effortless charisma, with sterling support from gutsy Elsa Yeung, a forlorn Silvia Peng and super-cool Sally Yeh, seriously sexy in her denim hotpants and Rambo headband with a toothpick dangling from her lips. Rumours persist that Jackie Chan makes a split-second cameo, but you’ll need a pair of eagle eyes to spot him.
While the zany plot skips from war movie to western, to whacked out genre spoof (including an interlude where the girls escape from jungle-dwelling tribesmen by showing their skills at sharp-shooting, archery, eating noodles and drinking beer!), the dramatic beats prove surprisingly skilful. Just when you think things can’t get any better, Yen Ping hits you with a swamp-load of longhaired zombies, spring-loaded skeletons with swords, and a sci-fi finale that unmasks the cat-stroking mystery villain as the girls go out machineguns blazing. The cast reunited for a sequel: Pink Force Commando (1985).