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)

The Dragon Missile (1976) review


Lo Lieh (Si Ma Jun), Liu Yung (Er Long), Yen Nan Hsi (Tan Hsiao Li), Ku Feng (His Lordship), Terry Liu (Miss Sha), Chiang Yang (Chen), Fan Mei Sheng (Miu Fei)

Directed by Ho Meng Hua

The Short Version: Inferior and quickly made FLYING GUILLOTINE clone, Shaws own cash in made to compete with another similar movie made by Jimmy Wang Yu for First Films, an independent company. With zero plot, it's essentially a chase movie with bland fights and unlikable characters. The title weapon is the one saving grace as is the astounding Shaw sets, the best and biggest of which get showcased here.

Si Ma Jun, master of the deadly dragon missile, is the trusted bodyguard to an oppressive and cruel lord. Falling ill due to a life threatening boil, Si Ma Jun is sent on a mission to recover the thousand year Longevity Rattan as it's the only medicine that can cure this rare, but deadly tumor. An old herbalist named Dr. Tan is the only person to possess it. The one drawback to this rare herb is that it cannot get wet lest its medicinal properties be nullified. One of the lords advisors says additional hands should be sent along to monitor the mission so a group of greedy fighters join Si Ma Jun. Through a series of double crosses and dead bodies, Si Ma Jun ends up a hunted man as he's pursued by the lords men as well as two warriors hellbent on revenge.

HK Movie News February 1976

There's virtually zero plot in this Shaw Wuxia quickie lazily directed by Ho Meng Hua. A rip off of Ho's own Shaw hit, THE FLYING GUILLOTINE (1974), he was likely pressured into this production when former Shaw star, Jimmy Wang Yu began work on his own FLYING GUILLOTINE clone, the poverty row MASTER OF THE FLYING GUILLOTINE (1976). Ever since he abandoned the Shaw ship in 1971 on the worst of terms, whenever his former employer had a big movie in preparation, Wang Yu was quick to whip up a clone of his own. At the time DRAGON MISSILE was being prepped in late 1975, Shaw's would soon be working on their own sequel to Ho's earlier guillotine picture starting at the first of the year in 1976.

Already saddled with a full slate of movies he was working on, Ho Meng Hua managed to crank this one out within a few months followed by Shaws hasty release at the same time as Wang Yu's ridiculous, but popular guillotine clone, a sequel to his earlier THE ONE ARM BOXER (1971), itself his own 'slap in the face' to his former boss. Sadly, DRAGON MISSILE suffers terribly from what was undoubtedly a rushed schedule and also an apparent lack of interest from those involved. The Shaw production facility had certain films that took precedence over other, lesser quality pictures which were mainly designed to make a quick buck. DRAGON MISSILE is one of those quickies. Curiously, the film was heavily ballyhooed in Shaw's promotional magazines whereas their typical lower tiered movies seldom received as much space within the pages of Southern Screen and HK Movie News.

Definitely a 'B' movie with 'A' movie production values, DRAGON MISSILE has very little plot whatsoever, borrowing heavily from Ho's earlier head slicing success. I Kuang's script is slapdash with the bare minimum of background regarding the flurry of characters on display. Ku Feng's despotic lord isn't even given a name, we learn next to nothing about Lo Lieh, or even the two characters played by Liu Yung and the bland beyond words, Nancy Yen. The latter two are the protagonists of this quickie and they get less screen time than the high number of cutthroats populating the cast. That Tang Chia and Yuen Chuen Yan were the choreographers, you'd expect at least the fights to be engaging, but these, too, are barely average. Tang Chia was a master at weapons fights, yet those seen here are below average with only the most basic punch, kick, block maneuvers. There's some interesting weapons seen here, but outside of the Dragon Missile itself, the choreography built around them is terribly static.

The most interesting aspect of the script is that there is some attempt to make Si Ma Jun a pitiable character, despite him maliciously killing a few innocent civilians including a blind woman, the mother of his former martial arts brother. Fiercely loyal to his lord, when he finally returns an hour into the movie, he finds the rare herb he went through so much trouble to obtain has dissolved(!!!), the result of him having to swim to get away from his pursuers. Enraged, the tyrannical lord orders Si Ma Jun's death. Fighting his way out of the castle, the once trusted guard now must go on the run. The last twenty minutes is the same as the previous 60 only now Si Ma Jun has been stripped of his rank and now a fugitive. The final fight is over with fairly quickly (it's around 5 minutes long) and consists mainly of Si Ma slinging his bloodthirsty boomerangs at his dwindled posse of pursuers who utilize their ingenious idea with which to counter the Dragon Missiles. Once Lo Lieh's character is dead, he's barely hit the ground before 'The End' and 'Another Shaw Production' zooms into view.

Southern Screen February, 1976; if you double click the photo, you can read the English text where you'll notice mention of certain exotic weapons to be used by characters played by Fan Mei Sheng and Chiang Yang, but these don't turn up in the film.

Which brings us to the Dragon Missiles themselves. To see them, it would appear more time was spent creating them then actual production time. This pair of cruel cutlery is one of the most beautifully designed weapons of the Shaw Brothers impressive line of death devices. There's no hidden features, just what is essentially a razor sharp boomerang that literally destroys any object it comes into contact with. The effects are surprisingly good, too. These weapons and their usage are really the only reason to tune into this movie. Oddly enough, Ho Meng Hua was able to fill out his film with many of the Shaw Brothers most impressive sets, particularly most of the massive outdoor town and castle replicas.

Hong Kong Movie News February 1976

Tony Liu Yung, well known for his association with the late Bruce Lee, made his Shaw Brothers debut here in this gimmick movie misfire. A fine actor whose limited on screen martial arts skill was better suited in Wuxia type surroundings. He would quickly gain notice the same year of DRAGON MISSILE's release by his star turn in the popular EMPEROR CHIEN LUNG, a successful film that garnered several sequels. Liu Yung was acting in that production as well as Hua Shan's incredibly violent crime-martial arts gangster film, BROTHERHOOD in addition to his work on THE DRAGON MISSILE, all three in production at the same time. From here on out, Liu Yung became one of the most popular actors in Shaws stable of stars. Liu also fluctuated from playing both heroes and villains. Attached to various Shaw starlets throughout his acting tenure, Liu had some serious relationship issues over the course of his career.

Nancy Yen, one of the least interesting female screen fighters in HK cinema, does little here to stand out aside from being one more character taking up screen time. It's unfair to pick on Yen Nan Hsi as there's really no script here that gives anyone anything to do aside from spout basic dialog then chase another character from one set to the other. In her defense, Nancy Yen did have a decade long stint in HK action movies from the early 70s to the early 80s. She did look good in her fight scenes in her films, she just lacked screen presence. Her Shaw career was short lived, ending after just a few films. After that, it was back to the indy scene till she retired in 1982. Some of her credits include MA SU CHEN (1972; aka REBEL BOXER), DEATH DUEL (1977), THE SEVEN GRANDMASTERS (1979) and MY BLADE, MY LIFE (1982).

Southern Screen February 1976

THE DRAGON MISSILE (1976) had several alternate translated titles during its filming including 'The Guillotine' and also its literal translation, 'Flying Dragon Cut'. Finally settling on the DM moniker, the picture came and went within a week barely breaching HK400,000 in April of 1976, losing out to the Wang Yu film, one of the few post Shaw hits he had. A weak link on Ho's resume, it's unlikely there was much interest in making a quality picture here as opposed to a fast bit of competition to counter what Wang Yu had been doing to the Shaws since the early part of the decade. Looking far more like a slightly more expensive indy martial arts movie, it was indicative of where Shaw Brothers was headed in the next few years when those cheap-jack kung fu movies became furiously popular at the HK box office, especially those whose plots contained far more comedy than serious heroics.

Without doubt a lower tier Shaw Brothers exploitation actioner, completists will be the most interested parties here. It does have some stunning sets, an amazing weapon, some good effects and a bit of gore, which to some, will be enough. THE DRAGON MISSILE (1976) is pure martial arts exploitation that has some minor points of interest, but the film will never be mistaken for anything more than 'B' level entertainment. The more dedicated martial arts fans looking for lots of fights will find them, but will be disappointed by their rudimentary level of execution, especially for 1976. Trash fans with a casual interest in the genre may take to the picture as a mild diversion, but little else. For additional photos including this films original poster, click HERE.

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