Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Woman Avenger (aka Fatal Claws Deadly Kicks) (aka Killer Bs)

                                                Director: Lee Tso Nam
                                      Starring: Hsia Kwan Li, Peng Gang


Hsia Kwan Li is hands (and feet) down one of my favorite female martial artists. Tall and amazingly flexible, she can throw some of the best kicks ever seen on film (her standing back kicks are especially impressive). She also was a fairly accomplished actress as well with the ability to play both dramatic and comedic roles. The fact that she's also quite easy on the eyes certainly doesn't hurt either. Hsia learned at the Lu Kwang opera school at the same time as several members of the Venom Mob and it's a real shame that she didn't follow her male counterparts to Shaw Brothers as I feel she'd have given Hui Ying Hung a run for the money as Shaw's kung fu queen (though this could have been due to Venom's director Chang Cheh's seeming unwillingness to cast female martial artists). Instead she teamed with director Lee Tso Nam, one of the best of the independant kung fu filmmakers. Hsia's initial role for Lee was a supporting part in Shaolin Wooden Men and her performance was so impressive that as a followup, she was immediately given a starring role in 1979's Woman Avenger (as a quick sidenote, I have no idea if this or Fatal Claws Deadly Kicks is the film's true original title while the Killer Bs moniker is merely a ludicrous vhs retitling).

Woman Avenger starts off with Hsia and her character's husband being ambushed by a gang of thieves. He is murdered and she is raped. Surviving this horrible scene, she manages to reach a Buddhist temple where she learns various martial arts techniques from a nun. She then departs the temple and going undercover as a man (always a lame gimmick in kung fu films and especially so in this case), hunts down the gang, going through their ranks one by one. These are in ascending order; Butterfly Knives, Broadsword, Spearman, Dragon Fist and finally the gang's ferocious leader Twin Section Boxing (played by Peng Gang who also served as the film's fight choreographer). Initially suffering defeat, Hsia is rescued by another female fighter and trained in Twin Boxing so that she may ultimately take down the leader. This is pretty significant in that Hsia's character has not one, but two female teachers and not one male hero is in sight.

This was quite a star making vehicle for Hsia and she takes full command it. While the role may not be quite as memorable as that of the comically spoiled, bullying character named Phoenix that she played in Lee Tso Nam's next film, The Invincible Kung Fu Legs, Woman Avenger may be the stronger picture overall and also affords her sole leading role (as opposed to Inv. KF Legs where she played second lead to Tan Tao Liang). Her beauty and incredible skills are displayed to perfection. Peng Gang was so effective in this film and had such good chemistry with Hsia, that Lee recast him as villian in KF Legs.

Strangely enough, Hsia never followed up the Lee Tso Nam vehicles with anytyhing much. She appeared in precious few films after that (and none in a starring role) before appearing in a tiny role in Tsui Hark's Zu Warriors of the Magic Mountain where she throws not one kick. After this, Hsia seemingly disappeared from the industry for some ten years. She reappeared twice in 1992 in a pair of low budget Taiwan pictures; Lady Killer and Revenge for my Son. If nothing else, these two adventures proved that her flashy, showy fighting techniques would have translated well in a modern day setting. After this, she disappeared again, seemingly for good this time.

As I understand it, she wound up returning home to Taiwan where she currently splits time between appearing on T.V. and running a restaurant.

Despite having been given too few chances to showcase her skills, at least we can thank director Lee Tso Nam and Woman Avenger for helping to expose (albiet far too briefly) one of the most memorable fighting femmes ever to appear in Chinese martial arts cinema.

                                                        *** / ****

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