Back in the glory days of Hong Kong cinema, the “girls with guns” subgenre crowned an array of kung fu queens who amassed a fervent fanbase in the west. Among the most popular and prolific were Moon Lee and Japanese starlet Yukari Oshima. Both beautiful, both amazing martial artists, both willing to risk life and limb performing outrageous stunts. Moon began her career in cult classics Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain (1983) and Mr. Vampire (1985) while Yukari shot to stardom with the tokusatsu favourite Space Sheriff Gavan (1984). But it was the teaming of both these deadly divas in Angel (1987) that really got pulses racing and producers repeatedly paired them together throughout a string of action vehicles.
Which brings us to Beauty Investigator, wherein bumbling policewomen Feng (Moon Lee) and Grace (Gam Chi-Gei) discover a dead woman in a dumpster, the latest victim of a serial killer who has been raping and killing nightclub girls across Hong Kong. Sexist Chief Inspector Wong (Melvin Wong) assigns the less-than-dynamic duo, who dress like Nineties rap starlets Salt and Pepa, to go undercover as “club hostesses”, hoping to lure out the psycho, although the girls spend more time fending off middle-aged gropers at Club Volvo. There they discover club boss Bill (Chui Jing-Yat) is a gangster. Along with his English girlfriend-cum-bodyguard Lisa (Sophia Crawford), Bill is trying to instigate a war between his triad bosses and the Japanese yakuza, so he can emerge as top dog. To that end he hires one-woman army Yamamoto (Yukari Oshima), who lays waste to the competition using her favourite killing method: a blowdart to the head.
Hong Kong action movies typically try to be all things to all people, so it is no surprise the tone veers all over the place. In fact the film downplays the whole psycho-killer angle for the most part while it leap-frogs from Miss Congeniality style chick flick comedy to serious crime thriller about the power struggles in the underworld and the kind of madcap kung fu caper for which Moon and Yukari were justly famed. Perhaps it is just as well the crazed killer is absent for for so long, because when finally does appear, bare-chested save for a leopard print tie, tiger skin shorts and matching headband, he proves impossible to take seriously. Surprisingly, it is assassin Yamamoto who intercepts the murderer, precipitating a plot twist that while amusing, proves ludicrous in hindsight. At least scrappy Feng has awesome kung fu skills, but Grace is so whiny and inept even her best friend can’t work out how she passed the police entrance exam. She actually vomits in disgust at the first dumpster corpse, after which the C.S.I. unit mistakenly analyse her phlegm as evidence. At one point the squabbling girls recreate an episode of I Love Lucy as they divide their apartment and all their possessions with red tape, preventing each from crossing over to the other side.
Lee Tso Nam was an old hand at this sort of schizophrenic nonsense, having helmed the ninja girl/Second World War/sexploitation/fantasy Challenge of the Lady Ninja (1984) and the crazed children’s film Kung Fu Wonderchild (1986) which also starred Yukari Oshima. So while the plot grinds laboriously and the comedy is sub-sitcom level, the action remains outstanding, choreographed by Jackson Ng Yuk-Sue who also co-stars as a disposable villain. Moon and Yukari were solid pros and their fight scenes crackle with crazed intensity, as does a brisk car chase wherein a shotgun wielding Feng pursues a bike-riding Yamamoto. The film’s Category III rating in Hong Kong (which signifies adult content and became a badge of honour for any exploitation movie trading in sleaze and gore) had some fans hoping for some racy scenes with Moon and Yukari, but neither was likely to sully their image. In fact it is British stuntwoman and martial artist Sophia Crawford who disrobes for a silly shower scene. Crawford carved a solid niche for herself in Hong Kong exploitation, notably with her infamous naked kung fu fight in Escape from Brothel (1992). She later went stateside as a stunt double for Sarah Michelle Gellar on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
After an unexpected death, Beauty Investigator turns deadly serious as Moon and Yukari team up for revenge and try to, you guessed it, kill Bill. The frenzied finale is incredibly entertaining, particularly Moon wielding a very cool (if out of leftfield) missile-shooting sci-fi glove. Dumb, but fun.