Show Me FaceBilly Tang is probably my favourite director of Category III Hong Kong flicks. Tang has a long list of scummy classics to his name including Vengeance is Mine (1988), Dr. Lamb (1992) and Brother of Darkness (1994). Red to Kill (1994) and Run and Kill (1993) stand with Herman Yau’s The Untold Story (1993) as the finest filth that Hong Kong has to offer. Not only are his films entertainingly offensive, they’re also incredibly well made, head and shoulders above your average Hong Kong CAT III, with a distinct style. Most CAT III directors seemed to lose their edge around 1995 (and then they really went downhill after the ’97 transfer of sovereignty), so it is with some trepidation that I watch Tang’s ’96 CAT IIb effort Street Angels.


original title: Hong deng qu
Hong Kong, 1996, Billy Tang

Street Angels

It’s apparent from the word go that Street Angels is not going to be the insane ride of previous Tang efforts. With its flashy mid-90s editing and camerawork, it takes some time for the narrative to even form. But once it does, the film is at least better than its opening would suggest.

Tung Yen and Walkie Pie (played by Chingmy Yau and Simon Yam, who had previously starred together in 1993’s infamous CAT III, Raped by an Angel) are partners in crime and life. The film begins with Walkie Pie getting into a knife-brawl on Portland Street, a place where triad members who want to gain fame “make big deeds” to let “others know he’s the most vicious one”.

Walkie is attempted to get revenge for his buddy Tiger by chopping Fatty Lai, a loan-shark who runs a whorehouse, to death in a bowling alley. He’s assisted by Tung Yen who has planted herself as eye candy for Lai, providing Walkie with his bladed weapons. This opening, complete with narration, leads the audience to believe Simon Yam will be the film’s lead. But Yam is quickly removed from the picture as he jets off to Holland, escaping from police and letting Tung Yen take the heat. Yen does her time in prison and keeps her mouth shut about Walkie.

We are then introduced to Playboy Man (Michael Tao). Yes, that is what the subtitles refer to him as. (The film is based on a comic by the way.) Playboy Man runs an awesome hostess club. He rakes in the millions, but he’s a surprisingly quiet and kind sort who looks after his staff. His staff includes sidekick Moro (Elvis Tsui), a loyal bodyguard whose only problem is that he is “too horny”.

When Tung Yen leaves prison, she finds herself work at Playboy Man’s club. She instantly rises to the top, becoming a popular hostess and knocking the jealous Karen (Valerie Chow), former hostess top dog, off her perch. Yen also recruits her young pal Ming-Ming (Qi Shu) taking her away from an awful job at a massage parlor in what is probably the film’s most hilarious and horrible scene.

Romance starts to flicker between Tung Yen and the lovely Playboy Man, but of course, all good things must come to an end. Walkie Pie comes back to town, and he’s not pleased with Yen’s relationship with the club owner. On top of that, Playboy Man faces fierce and violent competition from some envious rival club owners. But that’s nothing a bucket of shit can’t solve.

Street Angels is needlessly convoluted for what is, in the end, a very simple story. There are far too many characters, and it took me a little while to orient myself. But once characters are established and the direction and tone of the film become clear, it’s reasonably smooth sailing.

The cast is full of familiar faces. Chingmy Yau is great in the lead, and Michael Tao is tolerable. Elvis Tsui is is usual hammy self as the sex-mad Moro leading to some of the film’s funnier moments. Qi Shu (better known to Western audiences through The Transporter) is a welcome addition to the cast, as is Valerie Chow. Simon Yam’s screen time is minimal and while on screen he doesn’t make much of an impression.

That said, Yam is allowed to indulge in some fairly horrific abuse, reminiscent of Tang’s nastier films and some of Yam’s grimier roles, leading to the film’s only truly shocking moment and a disgusting use of wasabi. Street Angels is not a CAT III, so don’t go in expecting the depravity of Billy Tang’s better known films. With a CAT IIb rating, Tang is quite restrained.

Stylistically, Street Angels is passable. It looks better than most cheaply made Hong Kong flicks of the time. It’s competently shot and decently cut together. But it certainly lacks the punch of Tang’s earlier work. Gone is the use of tinted lighting and inspired camera angles and movement. Tang’s trademark style is replaced with a fairly conservative approach. While it’s not bad, I found there was little to distinguish this as a Billy Tang film.

While it’s far from Tang’s best, Street Angels is an enjoyable film. Never does it outstay its welcome, and there’s plenty of action, bad comedy and goofy performances to distract from the fact that its not particularly remarkable. With a trio of some of Hong Kong’s finest acting ladies and Elvis Tsui chewing out chunks of the scenery, fans of Hong Kong cinema should have a reasonably good time with this one.

Oh yeah, and there’s plenty of hilariously poor English subtitling to keep anyone entertained…


Street Angels has a typically cruddy HK release. Its non-anamorphic and looks and sounds rather shit, but hey, it’s watchable. Unfortunately, the DVD is out of print, but used copies shouldn’t be hard to find.