Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Vengeful Beauty


Director: Ho Meng Hua
Starring: Chen Ping, Lo Lieh, Tsui Siu Keung, Yueh, Hua, Wang Lung Wei, Shaw Yin Yin

Three years after directing the popular and influential, but ultimately spotty kung fu suspense pic, "The Flying Guillotine", prolific auteur Ho Meng Hua returns with a far more lively and entertaining sequel. This time around though, the famed weapons of mass decapitations  make only a cursory appearance.

Emperor Yung Cheng has been secretly using a band of assassins armed with the dreaded flying guillotines to dispatch a number of writers and scholars who have dared speak out against him (he's known to be a benevolent ruler and doesn't want his fake reputation tarnished; what a great guy). With word spreading that he himself is behind the murders, Yung finds a scapegoat in his chief officer, Han Tian Di. Working quickly, the emperor sends his most trusted guard, Jin Gang Feng (Lo Lieh) to slaughter his entire family. However  Han's wife, Rong Qui Yan (Chen Ping) survives. Doubling as a masked avenging angel, Rong initially attempts to avenge for her husband's murder but as she's two months pregnant, she decides to go into hiding instead. Knowing he is done for if the emperor discovers the survivor, Jin quietly sends his three children out one at a time to locate and silence Rong once and for all. Fortunately for Rong, she meets up with a remorseful ex-guillotine assassin, Ma Sen (Tsui Siu Keung) and former classmate, Wang Jun (Yueh Hua) and the three plot to bring an end to Jin.

Running a mere 78 minutes in length, "The Vengeful Beauty" moves furiously from one episode to the next while bearing all the hallmarks of a rushed production. Characters and plot points which are introduced or merely hinted at, quickly disappear from the proceedings. The emperor himself appears only at the beginning and is soon forgotten about, allowing Lo Lieh's Jin to assume boss baddie status. Rong's masked avenger disguise seemed at the beginning like it was going to be the main thrust of her character's story, only for the concept to get tossed away almost instantly. The Ma Sen character is hinted to be the same one as that played by Chen Kwan Tai in the original Flying Guillotine film (he even carries the same steel umbrella as in the previous pic), but it's never made clear. Most telling of all are the flying guillotines themselves. After being shown through flashbacks in the narrated opening sequence, the launched hatbox executioners make an appearance just shy of the thirty minute mark... and are never seen again! While it all sounds crippling to a movie like this, these moves not only do no harm, but the film bizarrely flourishes in part because of it. There is nary a dead moment to be found and not once as a viewer did I find myself wishing for the pacing to slow down so I could catch my breath. As a result, this is one of the most purely entertaining Shaw films that I have yet seen. The top notch action highlights are many and varied; we have the aforementioned lone guillotine battle, a strikingly visual ambush in a bamboo forest (perhaps the most impressive sequence in the film), a short, but welcome femme fight between Rong and Jin's topless daughter (Shaw Yin Yin), uncomfortable moments of Rong being beaten (remember, she's pregnant!) and a fairly wild finale featuring a half dozen or so Lo Lieh lookalikes.

The cast put forth some very strong work, belying the film's obvious 'B' movie status. Star Chen Ping has always been convincing in both the semi nude seductress and fighting warrior roles. She does much of her own fighting here and is only doubles for the more difficult flips and stunts. Lo Lieh is at his menacing best (then again, when isn't he?), yet somehow manages to bring a (very) small bit of sympathy to his role as he does what he does out of fear for his own family's safety. Yueh Hua is simply one of The Shaw studio's finest pure actors and certainly brings an air of realism despite his character being somewhat underwritten (don't want to give away too much about this character for those who have yet to see the film). It was interesting to see Tsui Siu Keung get such a large part as this point in his career. He was mostly relegated to small supporting roles and was hardly a known commodity. His screen presence is strong and proves that he can tackle a lead role if given the opportunity. He would get many more in the not too distant future.

Released the same year as the troubled, yet equally deliriously entertaining "Flying Guillotine 2" (which Ho did not direct as he was knee deep at that juncture in the King Kong clone, Might Peking Man, a troubled production in it's own right), "The Vengeful Beauty" may be short on decapitating hatbox attacks and a sensible narrative, but it easily makes up for it with it's lightning fast pace, strong performances from it's cast and wonderful action set pieces (some of the best that the Shaw studios put forth up to this point. Great trashy entertainment and highly recommended. 

Rating: 8/10