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Robotrix
(1991)
 

Director:Simon Yun Ching                        
Cast:
Hui Hui Tan, Aoyama Chikako, Amy Yip


(Special thanks to Dr. Freex of The Bad Movie Report for providing this movie to me.)

With the popularity of the Robocop movies in Hong Kong, it was inevitable that someone there would churn out their own version of the premise. And Robotrix is that movie. It follows the basic premise up to a point - like Robocop, this movie has a cop killed on duty who is soon after remade into a robotic crime fighting unit, afterwards tracking down the creep who did them harm - but with a few differences. The cop in this movie is a woman, for one thing. There's also a lot of kung-fu fighting, plenty of sex, and plenty of instances where the actresses in the movie take off their clothes. The graphic violence here is up to the level found in Robocop, but with that special touch that makes Asian cinema so special. When someone is killed with a punch to the chest here, we're shown a large circular dent in the person's chest. Welcome to the wonderful world of Hong Kong cinema!

As you may have guessed by the mention of that dent, this is one of those Hong Kong movies that's really over the top. Sometimes an attitude like that can be amusing to watch whenever there's an action sequence, meaning that we get to see knives thrown into people's mouths, flame-throwers used, and one of the most bizarre (and gory) decapitations ever depicted. All this kind of violence is never shown to be believable for a second, so we can distance ourselves and have fun seeing the blood splatter. However, there are a couple of scenes where things go over the top, yet are quite uncomfortable to watch. This comes with a couple of brutal rape sequences. Although there is still an air of unrealism in these scenes, it is nowhere as evident here as it is in the action sequences. The rapes in the movie are played out more realistically, with the criminal in these sequences giving off a quite nasty edge when doing this crime.

Very little is left to the imagination, and the movie comes close in these two scenes to becoming hard-core pornography. What may offend viewers even more are the female victims' attitudes towards being raped, both during and after the act. During the actual act, the women don't seem as upset as you'd think, and the woman who survives her attack has shrugged off the experience the next time we see her. This is not the first time I've noticed this kind of thing in Asian movies. The chauvinistic view of sex and women can also be seen when the police attempt to place a sting to capture the guy. A female android working with the police, curious about sex, decides to volunteer to be a prostitute at a whorehouse in order to try and find the culprit. This leads to not only an excuse for more sex and nudity, but a lot of wacky hijinks, many centering around her horny human male backup team members. I admit there's some weird humor to be found in this sequence (particularly the punchline), though this sequence does not advance the plot at all. Nothing wrong by sex and nudity itself in a movie, though when it gets in the way of the plot, you start to get impatient. Just check out your typical porno.

That sequence is one of many in the middle of the movie that bring the movie to a standstill. Previously, the story was moving fast right from the beginning, when a Sheik's son is kidnapped by evil scientist Ryuichi Yamamoto. Yamamoto was able to do this by committing hara-kiri while hooked up to a memory transfer machine, planting his mind into an unstoppable android. It just happens that Linda, a female policewoman who was killed while guarding the sheik's son, has her corpse taken by Dr. Sara and her android assistant Anna, and her memory is placed in the fighting android EVE R27, modified to look like the human Linda. Now she has a second chance to stop Yamamoto and save the Sheik's son....but from then on, the movie seems unsure of what to do next. There's a subplot about her relationship with her boyfriend, but that only seems to be there for an excuse for more sex and nudity. What's really surprising is that although Linda seems to be the central character, there are long periods when she is off-camera, and she isn't even present during the final action sequence!

Despite all these problems I had, I found a lot to enjoy about Robotrix. Though none of the action sequences was quite long enough for my liking, they were all well made. The use of wire work here is particularly inventive, with the characters making all sorts of fantastic maneuvers in the air. Also, the hand-to-hand fighting is swift, punishing, and exciting. And if you can get past those rape scenes, you'll probably get caught up in the movie's otherwise jovial spirit. The movie rarely takes itself seriously. One scene at a robot exposition has a businessman scoffing the fighting capabilities of a particular android, and immediately afterwards rips off his blazer and shirt to do bare-chested battle with the machine (guess what happens.)  EVE R27, pre-Linda, is dressed in a cheesy grey costume that seems more in place in a 1960s Japanese sci-fi film. The dialogue in the movie also is very amusing on several different levels. Since the movie is from Hong Kong, the characters are speaking Chinese, yet their dubbed dialogue doesn't even begin to match their lips. (Many Hong Kong movies are shot silently.) Also, the English subtitles have a number of howlers like, "Madam's getting first aid for her serious gun wound" and "Sir, I know that psychic (sic) killer, is a most dangerous person."

The movie also is responsible about violence, knowing full well that, say, when a character gets hit by a car, audiences want the victim to first have his or her legs completely crushed, then be able to see the four tires of the car running over the corpse. And whether the movie chooses to be offensive or not, or with the plot going forward or not, I was never bored. There is always some kind of peculiarity, something laughable (intentional or not), that keeps you interested. Certainly, all that sex and nudity, even though it kept bringing the story to a halt, sure pleased the horny bastard in me. It's funny how that sex-and-violence formula is still pleasing after all those years, isn't it?

UPDATE: J. Longden sent this explanation about dubbing in Hong Kong movies:

"I just need to clear up one thing from your Robotrix review, it's rather small when compared to the review, but it could cause people to come away from the review with a misconception regarding Hong Kong cinema.

"Anyhoo, it should be pointed out that in the golden age of the kung-fu movie, the famous Shaw Brothers (of whom was Sir Run Run Shaw, the producer of 'Blade Runner') were known to shoot their films silent as to reduce production costs and limit the crew needed on set. Other producers did this as well, but the silent shooting was mostly limited to low-budget kung-fu movies. Most other period films were shot with sync sound, and all modern HK movies are shot in sync sound.

"Somehow, the whole silent shooting story was spread to cover all movies from Hong Kong, mainly due to the dubbing of actors Mad Max, where the accent of the actor is deemed unacceptable or they don't speak Cantonese. For example, Jet Li's Cantonese is awful (as witnessed in The Hitman), as he speak Mandarin and has only recently learned to speak Cantonese. In most of his early, most well known flicks, his voice was dubbed over by another actor. (If you compare his voice in "Kung Fu Cult Master", which was dubbed, to his voice in "The Hitman", which is his real voice, you'll hear a very big difference.)

"Anyhoo, I hope that clears up any misconceptions that may have cropped up in regards to Hong Kong movies."

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Also: Automatic, The Beauties And The Beast, Troma's War

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