As I sit and stare at this blank slab of nothingness, trying desperately to come up with something clever to say, the scene from Roboforce (a.k.a. I Love Maria) where the female robot swoops in to rescue her male companions from certain death just in the nick of time is currently playing over and over again in my head. I think the reason this particular scene stands out from the rest is because I secretly wish I had a robot girlfriend, one who quotes Romeo and Juliet, drinks oil from a soda can and fires rockets from her wrists. Now, I realize what I just said is probably the dorkiest thing ever to be written in this site. But I don't care. I want a robot girlfriend, and I want it now! Oh, and if she could look exactly Sally Yeh, that would be great. I'm surprised you didn't go with robot Susan Tyrrell or robot Mary Woronov. Yeah, that was a tempting idea. However, I'd like to stick with the Sally Yeh model I saw in this Category III flick, directed by David Chung and Tsui Hark. Besides, I don't think Miss Tyrrell or Miss Woronov have the right temperament to play robots; they're too headstrong. At any rate, while I wouldn't exactly call myself a Category III expert, I think it's safe to say I have seen enough of them to know what to expect. And one of the main things I look for is weird shifts in tone. What I mean is, Hong Kong films made during this period seem to mix genres in a way that could be construed as haphazard. For example, one minute your watching a family-friendly action sequence where a buffoonish Tong Leung is attempting to take photographs of giant robot reeking havoc on a downtown street, and the next you're watching a forthright Sally Yeh put a bullet through the back of the head of some dweeb in a lab coat.
Sometimes the shifts in tone occur onscreen simultaneously. The film's many bar scenes are prime example of this, as they mix slapstick comedy and over-the-top violence rather seamlessly. This style of filmmaking can be jarring to those who are not used to it; my first Category III film, Robotrix, is famous for being all over the map when it comes to tone (it's The Terminator meets Porky's). But I like said, now I think I'm better prepared to handle what they throw at me. And, believe me, you need to keep your eyeballs frosty while watching these films, as they will overwhelm and disorient the uninitiated.
While not as awesome as Naked Killer (then again, nothing will ever be as awesome as that film), nowhere near as sleazy as Jailhouse Eros or Red to Kill, and not even close to being as insane as Robotrix, Roboforce (I actually prefer the title "I Love Maria," but decided at the last minute to go with the more generic-sounding "Roboforce") does have its moments. It's true, none of these moments include a big-boobed Amy Yip openly mocking the laws of gravity, but don't discount the gorgeous Sally Yeh, her bulletproof bosom will melt your heart and arouse your genitals. No, seriously. You haven't lived until you have seen Sally Yeh tilt her head slightly to the side in a decidedly robot fashion.
I know, almost every actor who has ever played a robot or cyborg has done the head tilting thing. One of my favourite head tilters being Hallie Todd as Lal, Lt. Data's android daughter in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode titled: "The Offspring" (my eyes get moist and junk just thinking about that episode - dork!). Nevertheless, I thought Sally Yeh, who, according to her bio, was raised in Victoria, B.C., brought an inquisitive grace to her head tilting. Which is one of the keys to becoming successful in the cutthroat world of non-competitive head tilting. Think about it, head tilting is the physical manifestation of curiosity.
The moment you stop tilting your head, is the moment you stop living.
More on the art of head tilting in a second, a giant robot, one who doesn't tilt their head, is causing a shitload of havoc in the city's downtown core right this minute. A so-called "Van" that is owned and operated by a gang who call themselves "The Hero" is about to make off with an entire bank vault, and there's nothing the police can do about it. Taking pictures of the Van, which is not really a "van," but an unstoppable killing machine, as it brushes aside of the large police force assembled to prevent it from stealing the vault, is Ching (Tony Leung), a bumbling newspaper reporter.
When the Van returns home to base, we meet Maria (Sally Yeh), the number two in The Hero, who is clearly upset with her scientists. As she is instructing the lead scientist to fix the Van, one of his underlings decides to make a run for it (apparently the scientists are being forced to work for The Hero). After the wayward scientist's body is riddled with gunfire, Maria pulls out her pistol and finishes him off with a bullet to the back of the head. You might be asking yourself, what kind of neck movements did Sally Yeh employ in this scene? Whoa, slow down, Billy. This version of Sally Yeh is not a robot. She's a human being. However, since you asked, Sally moved her neck, which is attached to her head, in a normal manner. That is to say, in a way that seemed direct and filled with purpose. If Sally Yeh wants to gaze upon something that is currently out of her field of vision, she will totally turn head to get a better look at it.
Meanwhile, back at police headquarters, Ching is trying to ask the police chief a question. As he's being told no comment, he runs into Curly (John Sham), a self-proclaimed genius who works for the police as a weapons designer. Telling his boss that he has developed a laser cannon that can pierce the armour of any robot The Hero throw at them, it's obvious that Curly is excited. Only problem is, as he's leaving, he overhears his boss mocking his invention to a group of police scientists. The reason he mocks his gun is because it totally works. In other words, he shuns his invention because he's jealous. Funny you should mention jealousy, Maria isn't pleased that their leader, The Saviour (Ben Lam), has created Van II, a more human-looking robot.
Heading down to the local bar to drink his troubles away, Curly, a man who is bullied constantly at work, comes to defense of a drunk named Chu (Tsui Hark), who is being tormented by...well, pretty much every in the bar; even the bartender is getting in on the act. Eventually getting the better of the unruly mob, with the help of Ching, Curly and Chu (whom Curly nicknames, "Whiskey") stagger out of the bar. He doesn't know it yet, but Curly has just befriended a member of The Hero. However, like Curly, Chu/Whiskey is a bit of an outsider. Actually, you could say the same thing about Ching.
In fact, I think I just figured out what this film is really about. No, it's not about robots. It's about three friends, wait, make that four friends (they get an addition to the group later on), who are all underdogs. Yet, at the end of the day, they're the one's who end up being the real heroes. Individuals who lash out against corrupt or apathetic agencies, join up with like-minded souls, and rip the system.
Anyway, if you thought Maria was jealous of Van II before, wait until The Saviour shows her his latest upgrade. You guessed it, he's put Maria's face on his new robot. And the Maria-bot's first order of business is to kill Chu, who The Hero spies recently spotted consorting with a cop; though, I wouldn't exactly call Curly a "cop." Nevertheless, he works for the police, and The Hero don't like that. A rooftop battle between the Maria-bot and Chu (who has a crush on the real Maria) and Curly ensues where, surprisingly, the latter actually come out on top. The reason I said it was surprising that Chu and Curly managed to defeat the Maria-bot was because she can shoot rockets from her arms and they can't.
Packing up a bunch of scientific doodads, Chu and Curly hit the road (it's no longer safe in the city) and head out to the country in a car that seemed like it was a combination of the Back to the Future car and the ambulance from The Ghostbusters. To eat dog or to not to eat dog, that is the question.What?!? Never mind.
Unbeknownst to Chu, but Curly has re-assembled the Maria-bot behind his back. Hold up in an old monastery, Curly programs the new and improved Maria-bot to only respond to the command "I love Curly." Which makes sense because that last thing Chu wants to say out loud. After overcoming his distaste for the expression, "I love Curly," Chu eventually gains control of Maria. Unfortunately, the real Maria and her henchmen have tracked them down.What ensues is an awesome robot fight, one that is way better than anything that appears in those stupid Michael Bay movies (could you be more specific? no, I can not), a scene that features excessive grappling hook usage, a flying motorcycle, and more of that sweet Sally Yeh-based head tilting (mmm, Sally Yeh-based head tilting, it's what's for dinner). Tilt that head, you mechanical seductress.
If you listen carefully, you can hear a slight clicking sound every time Sally Yeh tilts her head. Speaking of listening, if the sound effects used for the robots in Roboforce sound familiar, that's because the noises were taken from Aliens (exosuit cargo-loader) and RoboCop (ED-209) respectively.
While it may seem like the film mostly about head tilting and grappling hooks, Roboforce (a.k.a. I Love Maria) is an inspirational film about friendship and loyalty. And, like I said, a true underdog story. If you watch it with a group of friends, I guarantee you'll be hugging and giving each other high fives each by the time it's over.
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