Action / Adventure, Comedy, Films, Hong Kong, Recommended posts, Reviews, Sci Fi

I Love Maria

A classic of 80s Hong Kong madness, mixing Robocop, Metropolis and more…

Despite its title, I Love Maria is not a romantic comedy at all, but is in fact a particularly lunatic Hong Kong comic book style variation on Robocop, the film’s alternate moniker Robot Force being far more suitable and more representative of its content. Equally inspired by Fritz Lang’s immortal 1927 science fiction classic Metropolis, from which it lifts its suspiciously similar-looking female robot called Maria, the film was directed by David Chung (also responsible for the 1986 Michelle Yeoh vehicle Royal Warriors), produced by Tsui Hark, who also stars (and was said by some to have directed), and features action choreography by the always excellent Ching Siu-tung.

The film begins as a massive robot called Van robs a bank, announcing to the police who try in vain to stop it that it is working on behalf of a group of criminals rather cheekily called ‘Hero’. The gang are led by the wicked Lam (Ben Lam, who recently had a small role in Benny Chan’s Raging Fire) and his equally unpleasant lover Maria (Sally Yeh, best known for John Woo’s classic The Killer), and are a wicked bunch, deciding to knock off alcoholic ex-member Whiskey (Tsui Hark, who actually turned up as an actor in quite a number of films) after he makes friends with police inventor Curly (top 1980s comedy actor John Sham). Aided by Whiskey’s old master (The One Eyebrow Priest himself, Lam Ching Ying), the two go on the run, only for the gang to send their latest creation to kill them, a robot version of Maria (also played by Sally Yeh and resembling a cross between her namesake from Lang’s film and Robocop – though with a more pronounced female figure). Curly manages to reprogram the killer machine to make her one of the good guys, something which doesn’t sit too well with the gang, leading to an almighty showdown.

The opening scenes of I Love Maria, as the massive Van robot goes on the rampage, are an absolute riot, setting the scene for the fun to follow, and it’s immediately clear that fans of 1980s Hong Kong craziness are in for a real treat. The film never lets up, delivering scene after scene of deliriously high camp action in fine style, keeping the viewer entertained throughout. Although officially directed by David Chung, the proceedings bear the obvious mark of Tsui Hark and Ching Siu-tung, being very much in-keeping with their brand of high energy fantasy, and the film is well-paced and exciting, with plenty of aerial action scenes, most of them surreal, typified by a Tarzan inspired gun battle on swinging vines – Ching is on great form and the choreography is exciting in suitably cartoonish fashion.

This having been said, I Love Maria is surprisingly violent in places, with a number of jarringly bloody scenes which are quite at odds with its generally innocent tone, though this arguably just adds to the fun. In addition to this, there is an incredible amount of destruction on screen, especially during the robot duels, and the film sets some kind of record for demolishing walls, largely since Maria and the Van seem quite incapable of ever using doors.

All things considered, the special effects are best described as being ‘entertaining’, though this too is arguably part of the film’s considerable charm. The robots themselves are outstanding creations that actually move quite convincingly, and which come with plenty of wacky powers such as jet boots and extending fists in Gundam style, not to mention an impressive array of hidden missiles and guns. The film as a whole is filled with gadgets and is a wonderfully creative and imaginative affair, frequently making for surprising viewing.

As expected, the comedy mainly revolves around slapstick and screwball clowning, though this fits well with the wacky subject matter, and I Love Maria is both amusing and not too insanely scattershot compared to others of its type. Hark and Sham make for a great comic duo, and spend most of their scenes together either trying to get the robot Maria to hit or electrocute the other, or simply doing it themselves with bricks – these and other gags are enhanced by sound effects liberally lifted from a number of Hollywood science fiction films, which genre buffs will have a fine time trying to identify. Topping things off are a few scenes of overwrought emotion thrown in towards the end, which needless to say only serve to make things even funnier.

All of this adds up to make I Love Maria hugely enjoyable and a film not to be missed by any aficionados of far out cinema. Surely deserving of cult status, it works on pretty much every level in the uniquely Hong Kong 1980s style and guarantees a good time for all.

Join us every Thursday for the latest in James’ #cineXtremes series.

About the author

James MudgeJames Mudge James Mudge
From Glasgow but based in London, James has been writing for a variety of websites over the last decade, including BeyondHollywood in the US and YesAsia in Hong Kong. As well as running film consultancy The Next Day Agency, James is also the Festival Director of the Chinese Visual Festival in London, an annual event which showcases Chinese language cinema... More »
Read all posts by James Mudge

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