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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Vengeful Beauty (1978) review


Chen Ping (Rong Qiu Yan), Lo Lieh (Jin Gang Feng), Tsui Siu Keung (Ma Sen), Yueh Hua (Wang Jun), Wang Lung Wei (Jin Biao), Liu Hui Huang (Jin Ren Ting), Shaw Yin Yin (Jin Shao Zhi), Lee Chung Ling (Han Tian De), Frankie Wei Hung (Emperor Yung Cheng)

Directed by Ho Meng Hua

The Short Version: Ho Meng Hua had one last idea in mind to squeeze the maximum amount of blood from his sanguinary success of 1975, THE FLYING GUILLOTINE. Here, he and scriptwriter, Sze To On manage to create a vastly entertaining piece of seedy Wuxia mixture of sex, sleaze, swords and Flying Guillotines. 'Queen of Exploitation', Chen Ping, takes her bow as an action sex bomb with her role as the title beauty of vengeance. This concludes the reviews for the "Shaw Brothers GUILLOTINE quartet".

***WARNING! This review contains nudity***

A number of scholars and librarians are secretly assassinated by a mysterious band of killers who specialize in decapitating their targets. Fearing he will be linked to the crimes, Emperor Yung Cheng orders the death of chief officer, Han Tian De and his entire family. The Emperor's trusted guard, Jin Gang Feng has them slaughtered, but Han's wife, Rong Qui Yan survives. Rong leads a double life as a loving wife by day and avenging angel by night. Reporting to his highness that the job is finished, Jin must now kill Rong in private and sends his three children after her. Meanwhile, Rong meets up with a runaway flying guillotine assassin, Ma Sen. Along with another former classmate, Wang Jun, the three slash their way to the capital.

Ho Meng Hua was an extremely busy man in the mid 1970s. With the bulk of his attention being paid to the enormous undertaking of THE MIGHTY PEKING MAN (1977), he still found time to work on a few other movies in between. Among those he worked on during 1977 were SHAOLIN HANDLOCK (1978), THE PSYCHOPATH (1978) and THE VENGEFUL BEAUTY (1978). The latter title is of special interest as it's a pseudo sequel cum follow-up to his earlier THE FLYING GUILLOTINE (1974). Director Ho had already shot a rip off of his seminal period drama-thriller, the tepid DRAGON MISSILE (1976). THE VENGEFUL BEAUTY is a different story entirely.

One of ten cards from the lobby set

Although it was a lower budgeted, less important feature, Ho manages to instill a ton of fun and trashy elements to make this a breezy and very enjoyable 78 minutes. Speaking of the running time, it would appear either a handful of scenes were excised prior to release, or the shape of the film just prior to Celestial's restoration process was too badly damaged, resulting in those scenes being discarded. Whatever the case may be, the movie flows very well and never gets cluttered up with important things like characterization, or good taste maintaining this lower tier effort remains one of the Shaws most entertaining 'B' actioners. Tang Chia's choreography is far more satisfying here than the previous DRAGON MISSILE where he shared joint action design with Yuen Cheung Yan, brother to Yuen Woo Ping. The fights and clashing steel aren't ground breaking, but are nicely mounted and smoothly executed.

The left top corner and right bottom corner are scenes not in the finished film

Prolific scripter, Sze To On was an ace at cranking out scripts for films that embraced the tasteless side of HK cinema. He basically took famed scriptwriter, I Kuang's concept from THE FLYING GUILLOTINE and created an exploitation stew of ideas much the way I Kuang did with the far less engaging THE DRAGON MISSILE. Sze To On's result is far more satisfying especially to less discriminating fans who appreciate cheap thrills with some boobs and blood. The movie almost feels like it's two films in one--Chen Ping is only referred to as 'The Bloody Hibiscus' during the portion of the film that involves the airborne guillotines. After that, she's only referred to by her name. The one constant is that the movie remains a chase film from start to finish.

Southern Screen August 1977: Chen Ping (left) and Shaw Yin Yin take a break during filming

Highlights include a nicely choreographed battle in a bamboo forest, a brief fight between Chen Ping and a topless Shaw Yin Yin (another sex starlet), Chen Ping battling and being beaten while pregnant(!), a fight filled finale with a group of Lo Lieh lookalikes, booby traps, a number of elaborate weaponry and an extended cameo by the Flying Guillotine goons. Curiously enough, the flying guillotine plot point is forgotten about 33 minutes into the movie. After a big battle with the chain linked decapitators inside a decrepit temple, we never see them again; the film carrying on as a chase picture, but the intriguing death device is dropped from the narrative entirely. Interestingly, the movie starts off like it's a direct sequel to that first film about the elusive noggin loppers.

Shaw Yin Yin--Southern Screen February 1977

Scattered throughout the first 20 minutes are a few quick shots of the guillotine gang at work lifted from the first movie, including one cleverly edited shot that puts future BASTARD SWORDSMAN, Norman Tsui Siu Keung, in Chen Kuan Tai's shoes. Norman Tsui's character is named 'Ma Sen' a thinly veiled version of Chen's Ma Teng from the earlier picture. His background also mirrors Ma Teng's in that he was a former member and has been on the run for a few years. He's even in possession of the steel umbrella weapon the Ma Teng character created in Ho Meng Hua's original picture. Whether the character of Ma Sen is meant to be Ma Teng is unknown, but THE FLYING GUILLOTINE 2 (1978) was in production at this time as well.

The use of stock footage can be seen in two ways--a linking device that places this films action as taking place during and after events in the first movie, or more simply, it was a cost cutting measure to save a few dollars to deliver a quick fix to rabid audiences of the day. THE FLYING GUILLOTINE "reunion" carries on with a cameo of noted sleaze actor, Frankie Wei Hung. In the original movie, he played the greedy stool pigeon of the guillotine gang; in the sequel, he played one of the Emperor's trusted guards and here, he plays Emperor Yung Cheng, himself. He's only seen during the beginning and never again for the duration of the movie. Lo Lieh takes over as the main heavy of this picture playing an older character who uses his children as a means of exterminating the heroes. He can't do it openly as he lies to the Emperor that he has killed all of Han's family. This plot point is forgotten about by the end of the movie and, as mentioned above, the Emperor is never seen, nor mentioned again.

Chen Ping bid farewell to her more salacious image as a 'Sex & Action' starlet with her lead role as THE VENGEFUL BEAUTY, or 'The Bloody Hibiscus' of the Chinese title. After separating from her husband in what was a very brief marriage to a shipping manager, Chen's roles dwindled considerably till her retirement in the early 1980s. Her clothes stayed on after this movie and any scenes of nudity in her last few films are edited in such a way that it looks likely body doubles were used. Her portrayal of Rong Qiu Yan was her last major action role and she gives it her all possibly channeling some of that somberness of her then off screen ordeals to make this both stoic and tragic woman a memorable one.

Chen Ping--Southern Screen July 1977

Chen Ping celebrates her birthday during filming of THE VENGEFUL BEAUTY; Southern Screen August 1977

Formerly the 'Queen of HK Exploitation', Chen Ping was one of the few, if not the only HK film actresses who did both erotic and action roles undressing her clothes and unloading fists and kicks with equal abandon. Some of her big movies are KISS OF DEATH (1973; the film that put her on the map), MINI SKIRT GANG (1974), QUEEN HUSTLER (1975), WEDDING NIGHTS (1975), THE SEXY KILLER (1976) and LADY EXTERMINATOR (1977) to name a few. Despite all the flack she got for her film roles, Chen Ping never let it show on screen.

Bonus pic--From left to right: Evelyn Kraft, Shaw Yin Yin, Sir Run Run Shaw, Shirley Yu; Southern Screen February 1977

The aforementioned Norman Tsui would soon become a hugely popular face on Hong Kong cinema screens and televisions at home in the 1980s. During the latter part of the 70s, he mainly took bit roles, or minor supporting characters. THE VENGEFUL BEAUTY was an exception where he was given a much bigger role than he was normally afforded at this time. We get to learn just enough about him to want to see him stick around and there's some brief tension between his character, Ma Sen, Rong Qiu and her former classmate, the lovelorn Wang Jun (played by the great Yueh Hua), a man who is also harboring a secret agenda. There's quite a lot going on in this tight feature and director Ho weaves it all together rather nicely.

Yueh Hua was no stranger to working with Chen Ping. He co-starred with her in the Chinese COFFY remake, THE SEXY KILLER (1976) and its sequel, LADY EXTERMINATOR (1977) to name two of the most prominent films in which they shared screen time. The latter film was supposed to be Yueh Hua's first role as a villain, but he ended up playing the cop he played the first time around. Yueh Hua was one of the Shaws best actors and it showed in such spectaculars as COME DRINK WITH ME (1966), THE MONKEY GOES WEST (1966), THE 12 GOLD MEDALLIONS (1970), PURSUIT (1972) and KILLER CLANS (1976). I first began paying more attention to him after his portrayal of the arrogant, but righteous scholar in Chang Cheh's underrated THE IRON BODYGUARD (1973).

Two scenes pictured here are not in the finished movie. Curiously, the lower left corner photo shows Shaw Yin Yin in the nude. The lobby set has this same photo, but she is clothed; Southern Screen August 1977

Ho Meng Hua's final foray into the world of the Qing Dynasty's most fascinatingly mysterious and legendarily feared historical weapon of mass destruction is sure to entertain martial arts movie fans both seasoned and casual alike. It will be of most interest to trash film fans in need of a quick fix. Far more successful as a 'B' movie than its more derivative companion film, THE DRAGON MISSILE (1976), THE VENGEFUL BEAUTY (1978) is a highly memorable and hugely entertaining guilty pleasure that will definitely not be winning any awards, but will surely win over a few fans.

This review is representative of the Hong Kong R3 IVL DVD (OOP)

1 comment:

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