I recently went on a bloody excellent holiday to Hong Kong, and, other than clothes, the only thing in my suitcase on the trip home was a (kind of embarrassingly) gigantic haul of bargain bin movies. Part of the joy of movie hunting in Hong Kong is that almost everything has subtitles. Sure, the subs are often borderline illegible, but you can basically nab anything that looks vaguely interesting without fear of finding it totally incomprehensible (at least purely from a language barrier standpoint… most Hong Kong flicks are incomprehensible in other ways). I dug my way through many piles of VCDs, buying anything with a cheap price tag and an interesting cover. If the cover featured the mystical triangle CAT III rating, even better. Of all the nonsense I lugged home, this, so far, has been my most exciting find…
IT’S NOW OR NEVER
original title: 飛女正傳 (Fei nu zheng zhuan)
Hong Kong, 1992, Chan Kwok-Hei
Set in the early 60s, It’s Now or Never follows a gang of rough ladies led by Rose (Sharla Cheung Man), a strikingly beautiful wig-wearing bad-ass. Other notable members of the gang include the hyperactive Little Bun aka Bitchy Bun (Cynthia Khan) and Rose’s psychotic sister Tracy (Rain Lau Yuk-Chui). We follow the gang’s exploits as they beat the crap out of everyone — regardless of gender — in their path, dance to Elvis tunes in clubs, and deal with Rose and Tracy’s gigolo father, Tat (Ng Man-Tat). Tat is mostly a good guy. He’s certainly not the prototypical CAT III raper dad, but he does often threaten to ‘burst’ his daughters’ tits. To be fair, tit threats are common in the world of It’s Now or Never and Hong Kong cinema in general…
During the girl gang’s many run-ins with the law, a strait-laced cop, Shing (Alfred Cheung Kin-Ting), falls in love with Rose. Rose, however, is more interested in courting a chubby rich guy. While Rose attracts a nerdy admirer, her gang provokes the ire of a local policewoman (Chan Hiu-Ying), who, as a side note, is credited only as ‘Policeman‘ in the end credits. A brutal back-and-forth between the delinquents and the lady cop leads to several cruel pranks.
Rose and her pals are pretty out of control, but, horrible pranks aside, it’s mostly innocent fun. Sure, Bitchy Bun threatens to kung-fu everyone to death and Tracy is permanently antagonistic, but no one’s getting seriously hurt, right? The serious drama in Rose and Tracy’s life comes from their dad. Tat’s pervy elderly clients are tiring of his antics (he struggles to get it up) and his debts are getting dangerously large. A local loan shark (Wong Chi-Keung) comes looking for cash, and Tat’s daughters are dragged into his financial woes.
Not only does It’s Now or Never do something different from the usual girl gang tale, it’s also a tonally atypical CAT III. It appears its original theatrical release only scored a CAT II rating, while its home video release was bumped up to CAT III. Its story doesn’t tread the grim and dark path you’d expect from your average CAT III outing. I’d say it’s likely that its coveted rating was slapped on in an attempt to sell more copies of its VCD. Don’t get me wrong though. This is still a brutal film with a few legitimately shocking moments.
But more than it is shocking, It’s Now or Never is just incredibly fun. It never dips in entertainment and keeps things pumping with its rock ‘n’ roll soundtrack, an awesome 60s setting, and unrelenting energy. Director Chan Kwok-Hei seems to have been gifted with a somewhat bigger budget than most CAT IIIs are allowed. There are big party scenes with excellent crane shots dipping across the action, and its setting is mostly authentic.
On top of its slick style, we get an extremely solid cast. Sharla Cheung Man is perfect in the lead role. She brings class to a character that could have easily been a vicious cardboard cutout. It’s bizarre seeing Cynthia Khan in a sleazy movie like this. Her martial arts skills are utilised, but mostly for comic effect when, despite her claims of her superior fighting skills, she finds herself the loser of most fights she starts. The highlight is Rain Lau Yuk-Chui as Tracy. She’s loud and obnoxious, yet somehow very likeable.
Don’t let the fact that this is not as obnoxious and mean-spirited as the usual CAT III girl gang fare put you off. It’s Now or Never is by far the best of the sub-genre. Even outside girl gang films, this is a unique piece of Hong Kong cinema. Among Hong Kong’s early 90s output, it’s rare to find such a likable mix of exploitation, period piece filmmaking, and well written characters. This is, if you can excuse a super overused expression, a lost gem.
As far as I know, It’s Now or Never is only available on VCD. The VCD is out of print and goes for way too much on ebay, but if you happen to be in Hong Kong, it’s not too hard to come across.