A title like “Strike of the Tortured Angels” sets up certain expectations in this viewer’s mind–expectations that, technically, are met in this film. It’s true that this film does involve some pretty girls, and there is revenge in the storyline. However, this movie takes a lot of wrong turns on Backstory Lane and, much like a nervous student driver terrified to push the speedometer over twenty miles per hour, never makes it onto Entertainment Highway. That’s not to say this was a waste of my time–far from it! This film answered a question I never dared to ask myself: Just how long can the utter wrongness of watching an Asian woman in blackface stay entertaining? The answer to this question is “twenty-five minutes.” Problem is, “Strike of the Tortured Angels” runs for an hour and twenty-three minutes.
After the suspiciously Anglo-name-filled credits* are done naming actors such as “George Bill” and “Laura Jone,” the movie follows Julie, Susan and Ginger, three inmates of a women’s reform institution in Hong Kong, through their imprisonment, escape, and plot to avenge Susan’s sister who committed suicide after her tragic relationship with a no-goodnik of a doctor. There’s a lot of promise early on, with mud-wrestling, clothing-ripping, and some mild humiliation and cat-fighting, but after about 20 minutes of tame WiP cliches, the movie chooses to focus on melodrama over shock value. There are plentiful, elaborate side plots without the benefit of character development and a significant portion of the film’s action is revealed through dialogue instead of being shown on-screen. By the time a fifteen minute flashback explaining Susan’s fucked-up home life is through, we’re almost missing the toilet-swabbing montage from the prison portion of the film. Add in a morally upright prison guard who wants to rehabilitate the girls in spite of their escape and you’ve got a recipe for… well, a really draggy hour and twenty-three minutes.
That’s not the most notable thing about this movie though, as you’ve already observed. I did, in fact, state that one of the leads–Julie–is a black character played by an Asian actress in heavy bronzer and a fright wig. She overacts pretty much continuously, mugging and flailing and generally acting wild. Julie’s subplot is that she is afflicted with tuberculosis, the main symptom of which is that she coughs during fist fights.
The really puzzling thing about this movie, once you get past the whole “blackface” thing, is that the movie appears to be a women in prison film intended for a mainstream female audience–sort of a “Sisterhood of the Incarcerated Pants.” I just don’t know how else to explain the vexing lack of nudity, or the fact that Ginger has a pet piglet that gets more screen time than the kinda-cruel-but-actually-merely-cranky warden. There’s a lot of exposition surrounding the love triangle involving the sleazy doctor and Susan’s sister and her mother, but it’s played like a soap opera rather than an exploitation film. Lots of words are exchanged–lots and lots of words.
There’s a rather noteworthy scene in a disco in which it becomes clear to me that the dancers are all cursed with the same disorder that plagues people at spooky nightclubs–everyone is dancing to a different song. Bonus points for the fact that the song that is playing in this scene sounds a whole lot like a muzak re-working of the Bee Gees’ “Tragedy.”**
Oh–did I mention that one of the leads is played by an Asian actress in blackface? I’m kinda hung up on the WTF’ery of that. Forgive me.
To sum up, this is exactly the kind of movie you’d want to watch if you’re a fan of confusing family drama, stilted dancing and racial insensitivity. All others can safely skip “Strike of the Tortured Angels” and check out the Flickr gallery of stills for the briefer visual experience instead. Better yet–just watch “Raw Force” or “Three Tough Guys” from the Grindhouse Experience box set from whence this one came instead. Gotta give points to those Grindhouse folks for releasing such a flagrant dupe directly from a Danish VHS–makes me feel just like the olden days of video swaps.
*In all fairness, I’d adopt a pseudonym if I was involved in this movie, too.
**This is my favorite Bee Gees song. Yes, I have a favorite Bee Gees song.