Director: Lee Chiu
Starring: Ben Lam, Yukari Oshima, Eddy Ko, Chan Ging
Along with 'Close Escape' (reviewed elsewhere in this blog), this was another early Yukari Oshima vehicle I first rented at a Korean-owned store, circa 1990. Yet unlike the previous film, my memories of this one were not as sharp. Perhaps it was the melodramatic story (compounded with the expected giant Korean subtitles which obscured the english ones) that turned me off. Or perhaps it was that The Osh was not involved in the finale (hopefully that isn't too big of a spoiler) or maybe that my brain was on overload with this stuff at that point. Whatever the reason, I was pretty dismissive of this one at the time. It wasn't until I nabbed a better print a few years back (with legible subs) that I was finally able to appreciate 'A Punch to Revenge' and now consider it one of the better examples of late '80s HK action.
Fan (Yukari) is a HK social worker (!) who's client, Tsang (Eddy Ko) is a cripple who lives a humiliating life with his wife who must loan herself out as a prostitute in order to pay the bills. In an attempt to better this situation, Tsang enlists his cousin and three cohorts from the Mainland to work for notorious ex-HK detective Ma (Chan Ging). They commit a jewel heist, but are double crossed by their would-be employer. Sergent Lee (Ben Lam) once Ma's protege, investigates and a chance meeting (and subsequent romantic involvement) with Fan provides an unexpected break in the case.
One of the the things that really struck me about 'A Punch to Revenge' (honestly, no pun intended) was it's utter unpredictability. Although it essentially revolves around it's two leads, this is an ensemble piece; one with layers of characters (particularly villains) who's importance seemingly are always on the increase or decrease as the film's lucid story unfolds. More often than not, this sort of thing yields murky and unfocused results so on the occasion where it's done correctly, it's all the more rewarding. The film is not exactly action packed but when the action does come, it is intensely gritty and nasty. In each skirmish, the outcome is always in doubt, making for some of the more white knuckled moments the genre has seen. The gore filled finale in particular, is about as uncomfortable (and yes, unpredictable) as it gets.
In the unlikely role of Fan the ass kicking social worker, Yukari Oshima is allowed one of her meatier roles. This was an attempt at softening her image a bit and she proved more than up to the challenge. The Osh displays genuine sweetness and vulnerability heretofore unseen in her previous work. It's also significant that of her three excellently staged fight scenes, only one (where she angrily trashes Ma's office and everyone in it) did she truly prevail and this allows a genuine concern for her character's well being throughout (though that said, there is nothing I enjoy watching more than my fave femme fighter in total control, mopping the floor with any and all wood-be oponents). Taking the lead in the film is the always reliable Ben Lam. An impressive kickboxer, Lam has been consistently effective whether playing Moon Lee's naive boyfriend in 'Dreaming the Reality' or as Stephan Chow's nearly indestructible rival in 'Love on Delivery' (to name just two). Here as the reckless police chief, he displays a quietly commanding demeaner and plays quite well off Yukari. They actually make for a charming and believable couple, here. Eddy Ko is also quite good in the sympathetic role of Tsang who must endure his wife sleeping with clients for money (in their own apartment yet!) as well as the burden of caring for a severely retarded child (shockingly played by a young boy obviously stricken in real life with cerebal paulsey). That such potentially heavy melodrama is handled so delicately and with such casual unsentimenatality is a credit to director Lee Chiu who managed to avoid such potential pitfalls. This is an action film first and foremost and Chiu thankfully never lost sight of that.
* * * 1/2