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  Seven Maidens Leave it to the ladies
Year: 1993
Director: Wong Jing
Stars: Michelle Yeoh, Maggie Cheung, Sandra Ng, Damian Lau, Sharla Cheung Man, Carol Cheng, Simon Yam, Ng Man-Tat, Dicky Cheung, Charine Chan, Esther Kwan, Leung Kai-Chi, Lee Siu-Kei
Genre: Comedy, Martial Arts, Historical, Fantasy, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: During the Ming Dynasty China was regularly raided by Japanese pirates. At first superior Chinese kung fu repels the invaders. Until the arrival of an incredibly powerful Japanese martial arts master named Super Sword (Simon Yam) who rips through Chinese armies like they were tissue paper. To save the nation righteous kung fu hero Mo Kake (Damian Lau, probably having a mild case of deja-vu since he went through this same set-up before in Duel to the Death (1983)) reluctantly abandons his wife-to-be Ching Sze (Michelle Yeoh). With the aid of a magical drug concocted by crazy-haired master Ghost Doctor (Ng Man-Tat), Mo Kake takes on Super Sword and wins. However Super Sword swears to return in three years for a revenge match. Meanwhile the after-effects of the drug turn Mo Kake into a deranged sex maniac who abuses his wife and massacres his entire wedding party. Thereafter Ching Sze abandons her now-comatose husband to walk the earth slaying abusive men.

Along her travels Ching Sze takes on a pupil in Ng Tung (Dicky Cheung), a young dimwit fleeing an arranged marriage to the shrewish Doll (Carol Cheng) who is in hot pursuit. They in turn happen across beautiful but spoiled Princess Tin Heung (Maggie Cheung) who is also trying to escape an arranged marriage, accompanied by her randy bodyguard Yam Kin Fai (Sandra Ng). On their wild and wacky journey the group cross paths with Spider (Sharla Cheung Man), a sultry ninja girl with spider-like powers. Spider and her similarly seductive sister Butterfly (Charine Chan) are out to ensnare virgins to re-energize their evil master Super Sword. However upon mistaking a disguised Ching Sze for a man, Spider falls in love. Eventually Ghost Doctor and his cute daughter gather the whole bickering troop together to search for a sacred scroll that holds the secret to defeating Super Sword once and for all. Unfortunately to fulfill the prophecy they need seven maidens. Which leaves them one short...

It is interesting to compare the status of women in Hong Kong cinema versus Hollywood in the Nineties. While the popular opinion among American movie moguls was that women alone could not carry a movie, in Hong Kong at this time a whole spate of productions were made teaming the top actresses of the era that were a huge box office draw. In fact around the same time that Maggie Cheung and Michelle Yeoh made this film they also co-starred in the superior superhero movie The Heroic Trio co-directed by Ching Siu Tung who here serves as action choreographer. Inevitably infamous schlockmeister Wong Jing cashed in on this lucrative trend with the star-laden Seven Maidens, also known as Holy Weapon. 1993 was a remarkably busy year for the routinely prolific Wong. He directed nine films including two other wu xia fantasies: Legend of Liquid Sword and Kung Fu Cult Master. A loose remake of another all-star female led fantasy from the Sixties, Seven Maidens has a convoluted plot some maintain is impossible to follow (lightweights!). In truth it is pretty standard for the wu xia sub-genre dating back to the days when Chu Yuan cranked out umpteen Gu Long adaptations for Shaw Brothers. The difference being Chu was a master storyteller while Wong Jing essentially uses the plot to string together a bunch of wacky comedy skits.

True to Wong's past form the bawdy humour (which includes a running gag wherein Doll's magical love-inducing lipstick backfires every time, an unsubtle dig at then-Hong Kong governor Chris Patton, and a scene where Ng Tung converses with his own talking penis) makes the Carry On films look like Noel Coward. Michelle Yeoh more or less plays the 'straight guy' while everyone else cranks up the bug-eyed antics to eleven. A large portion of the film dwells on bedroom farce with multiple romantic misunderstandings where various women inexplicably vie for the love of horny idiot Ng Tung. It also repeats the familiar wu xia trope where a woman falls for another woman disguised as a man. So if you always wanted to see Sharla Cheung Man flirt with Michelle Yeoh this is the movie for you. Aspects of the film veer into horror territory with Sharla's spectacular entrance as a man-eating spider-woman, a scene where the heroes battle the hideous Green Haired Vampire and visceral action scenes with bodies exploding like bags of gore. Sharla Cheung Man and a vivacious Sandra Ng land impressive romantic and comic moments respectively. Meanwhile, despite comparatively meager screen time the more versatile Maggie Cheung outshines everyone and handles the most multifaceted subplot.

Wong Jing's wisest decision here was giving Ching Siu Tung fre reign to indulge his hyperactive imagination. His frenetic fight choreographer befits the film's over the top comic book tone: bird-costumed ninjas fly in mid-air, superheroes wield actual buildings as weapons. Seven Maidens is full of crazy practical effects and outlandish ideas so that while barely coherent and tonally inconsistent it is still uproarious fun. Plus who does not enjoy seeing so many glamorous Hong Kong actresses gathered in one place. The third act takes some disarmingly dark turns and grows more compelling before the climax pits the entire ensemble against dastardly Simon Yam. It also pulls off a ridiculous plot twist at the expense of its horny hero that is totally dumb but funny.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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