Speed Angels (極速天使)

speed angels

I was hoping my girl crush on Tang Wei would save this movie from any preconceived notions I had about how bad it might be. Sadly, my love for her does not extend to this substandard project, which is not to say anything about her performance. She acquits herself as well as one can in a movie called Speed Angels, but it’s hard to ignore the cinematic car crash swirling around her.

I had already guessed this movie about a team of female racers would not be an estrogen charged answer to Initial D or The Fast and the Furious but hoped it might be an honorable attempt at one. Others probably hoped for a vamped up version wherein car models take the wheel. It is neither. Instead, writer and director Jingle Ma gives us a protracted story about a couple girls who need to suck it up and get over their problems; they just happen to race cars for a living.

Tang is Xiaoyi, who starts the movie as a humble taxi driver. When she inadvertently helps the coach of the Speed Angels (Han Jae-suk) chase down some muggers thanks to her deft driving skills, he recruits her for his racing team. She immediately finds resistance in racing legend Bing (Rene Liu), a temperamental drunk who’s lost her edge after injuring her sister in a car accident. Bing resents everyone; not only is she hard on herself and her second-rate colleagues, she’s gearing up for a fight with Mei (Cecilia Cheung), her former best friend and teammate who stole her fiancé (Kitamura Kazuki) on their wedding night. The plucky Xiaoyi does her best to save her idol Bing from the bottle, but she has her own demons to contend with. While she may rip it up in her little pink cab on the crowded city streets, she is overcome with anxiety when racing in front of an audience on the track. Can these girls come together and redeem themselves when it really matters? Can they prove themselves in the Asian Heroine Race?

Who cares? The whole movie is a soppy cliché, reminiscent of some very average melodramas circa late 1990s. Bing broods over a lot of alcohol and wears the same sullen expression for a good ⅔ of the film. Even if Liu wanted to add a little depth to her character, there is not much room for her to expand beyond the resident grump. The other female racers, meanwhile, nod like enthusiastic bobbleheads during their training sessions. Tang moderates her character’s chirpiness and brings some age appropriate calm to Xiaoyi but still veers off into a schoolgirl crush on her coach.

That the women are part of a stereotypical male domain is supposed to signal female empowerment – look at these ladies driving fast cars and breaking the mold! In fact, they remain under the purview of their male team owners. Bing and Xiaoyi want to win, but maybe not as badly as their bosses who stake money, marriages, and their family names on a trophy.

The faux feminism of the movie is further evident by the utter lack of adrenaline pumping action sequences, sacrilege for a movie about racing and with “speed” in the title. The climactic championship race is almost entirely CGI; you might as well watch your kid cousin play a video game. The filmmakers’ priorities are clearly not where you would expect, and this is not a love letter to cars or racing. While Xiaoyi likes to talk to her cab and fiddle with fare meters, these characters are not ones who live and breathe speed. Aside from trainer Joe (actual actor-racer Jimmy Lin) who lectures down to his drivers and audience, the members of Speed Angels could just as well be pastry chefs or dolphin trainers and still contend with their same problems in the same way.

Released: 2011
Prod: Jingle Ma 馬楚成; Lu Tao 蘆濤; Feng Tielin 馮鐵林
Dir: Jingle Ma 馬楚成
Writer: Jingle Ma 馬楚成; Chen Shu 陳舒
Cast: Tang Wei 湯唯; Rene Liu 劉若英; Cecilia Cheung 張柏芝; Han Jae-suk 韓宰錫; Jimmy Lin 林志穎; Kitamura Kazuki 北村一輝; Cheng Yi 程伊; Tanaka Chie 田中千繪; Cheng Pei Pei 鄭佩佩; He Jiong 何炅; Jiang Wu 姜武
Time: 111 min
Lang: Mandarin
Country: Mainland China
Reviewed: 2014