Big Bad Sis (Sun Chung, Hong Kong, 1976)

Ying (Chen Ping) beats the crap out of a garment factory’s resident dyke when she tries to rape newbie Fong (Chong Lee) in the toilets. Fong and co-worker Sai (Siu Yam-Yam) befriend Ying and move in with her. After hearing of their tragic histories at the hands of sex-crazed stepfathers and lusty relatives Ying agrees to train the two girls in street fighting but refuses to open up about her own life. But when another female employee is kidnapped and forced into prostitution the three girls set out to rescue her but in the process Ying is brought face to face with her past as a mistress/protege of local gangster Boss Dai (Wang Hsieh) and how the intervention of chivalrous restaurant owner Brother Shing (Chen Kuan-Tai) saved her life when she tried to quit. As Ying renews her friendship with an old flame still in Dai’s employ named Brother Wai (Wong Chung) the garment factory is threatened with closure by Boss Dai and Ying is kidnapped by his men. It’s up to the girls, plus Brothers Wai and Shing to save Ying from certain death!

Snappy, vivid and charming Shaw Bros mixture of melodramatic pulp and Women’s Lib with Chen Sing, Siu Yam-Yam and Chong Lee all easy to like as the gal pal workers who bond, share the same flat, then pour out their hearts to each other about the men who’ve done ’em wrong (in a delightful moment Ying tears open her blouse to reveal a garish tattoo on her left tit while declaring herself a fallen woman!) and who go on to form a kind of unofficial gang to protect themselves and their fellow workers from all those men who’d do them harm. Pretty soon Ying is teaching the girls the art of self-defence in a series of training montages and then away we go as the trio come to the rescue of various girls needing their help. The funniest of these is the humiliation of a chancer named Master Chiu who’s already got one of the factory girls, Siu, two months pregnant while seducing another with promises of marriage. By this time in the film it seems like half the girls at the factory are in on the fun and it’s a great moment when they swarm Chiu at the beach, strip him naked and have Siu come at him with a pair of garden shears as the girls all chant ‘Cut it off! Cut it off!’. Being a nice girl she of course doesn’t but the solution, with Ying reassuring Siu that if the father is so useless then all the girls will help bring up the boy, goes to the heart of what makes Big Bad Sis so likeable. The camaraderie and courage of the girls always wins through and in essence the film has a delightfully innocent charm to it. Strip out the sleazier aspects and it really could be one of those old British movies in which a group of enthusiastic youngsters get together to save a beloved institution – it has that kind of feel to it.

On Szeto’s script is pretty terrific. It gives the characters entertainingly colourful backstories, grounds the action in reasonably plausible character motivations and lets the girls punch back twice as hard at the men making their lives hell. Although the good guys in the shape of Brother Shing and Brother Wai get in on the action in the big finale the girls pretty much save themselves here. I particularly liked the scene in which Ying describes her upbringing at the hands of the evil Boss Dai as the film cuts between her being tattooed and her learning how to cheat punters at gambling. It’s as if the deeper she becomes mired in corruption the more these tattoos seem to spread across her body. Sun Chung’s energetic direction really sizzles in the action scenes. The sequence where Ying discovers that her employer owes Boss Dai money and visits the latter’s office to retrieve his debt note is a case in point. What does Ying do? Politely and patiently plead her case like a good girl should? Hell with that. She drenches the Boss with petrol then lights up a blowlamp before any of his goons can move and threatens to torch him unless he hands over the note. To which all I can say is Fucking A! It’s exhilarating scenes like this that make the film such a blast and to his credit Sun Chung also brings some depth to quieter scenes such as the doomed attraction between Ying and Brother Wai, the man who once took a beating from Boss Dai in order to protect her and yet out of misplaced loyalty can’t bring himself to leave his employer.

The big showdown, a massive scrap with Ying and Brother Wai fighting off Boss Dai and his men in and around a construction site is really something. There’s an exciting motorbike/car chase, while crowbars, hooks, spades and just about every other implement you can imagine on a building site are pressed into service here as a game Chen Ping – who really does seem to be doing almost all her own stuntwork – batters her enemies senseless whilst taking a hellacious beating in the process. To say the least, throwing yourself around on an actual building site carries no small degree of risk (it really does seem as if poor Chen Sing took a kick in the face for real at one point) and you have to admire the almost suicidal bravery of some of these stunt guys. Sun Chung’s direction really socks over the sense of a second by second fight for survival here and I was very impressed by the rhythm of his staging. He’s able to raise the stakes as the battle progresses to the point that we’re mightily relieved when the cavalry arrive in what literally seems like the nick of time. Thankfully it all culminates in the villains getting their just desserts and when Ying is taken away by the cops it’s to a rousing chorus as her fellow workers chant, in her honour, ‘Big Bad Sis! Big Bad Sis!! BIG BAD SIS!!!’ Right on, baby!