For those who couldn’t get enough of Meng Hua Ho’s 1975 epic The Flying Guillotine, the chopsocky maestro returned three years later with what many consider one of the finest martial arts movies ever made. Whether they’re right or not is another matter, but The Vengeful Beauty is definitely an entertaining slice of Hong Kong schlock, especially if you don’t think too hard about its ridiculously overplotted storyline. Still, who ever watched a Shaw Brothers flick expecting an Oscar-worthy narrative?
Rong Qui-yan is an expert martial artist who’s given it all up for love. Or kind of. At the start of the movie we see that she still enjoys the odd bad guy massacre from time to time, as she fatally rebukes the villainous Emperor’s book-burning henchmen when they try to assassinate a lowly proofreader. Yes, you read that right - there’s a touch of the Farenheit 451’s to The Vengeful Beauty, even if this tantalising idea is abandoned quite early on in the film. Before you know it, the henchmen are flinging razor-bladed hats everywhere with a speed and consistency that would put Goldfinger’s Oddjob to shame, and when Rong returns home to find her husband and family have been murdered for asking too many questions she sets out on a one-woman mission to make the culprit pay.
In this case, the culprit is the sneaky Jin Gang-Feng who knows the only reason Rong ran away from their last battle is because she’s pregnant and has promised her dead hubby she’ll protect their unborn child, so Gang-Feng sends his three adult children out to hunt Rong down. Unluckily for the kids, Rong has teamed up with an old friend from martial arts school and another guy who’s also pretty handy at throwing objects around like boomerangs when he doesn’t think anyone’s looking. Fiendish ambushes, poisoned needles, a coquettish topless assassin and a very awkward love triangle lie ahe, not to mention plenty more guillotine-bladed bowler hats (or at least that’s what they look like, albeit sprayed a very fetching shade of gold). Will our kick-ass expectant heroine survive long enough to wreak her revenge and avenge her husband’s death?
Although this may not be the classic that overly enthusiastic fans claim, there’s something unmistakeably wonderful about The Vengeful Beauty. The sword play, back flips and flying kicks are copious, the actors keep convincingly straight faces even when they’re reciting some painfully exposition-heavy dialogue (made even better by the weird pidgin English of some of the subtitles), and the eagle-eared will earn extra points if you recognise a recurring musical sting that, we’re pretty sure, has been stolen wholesale from 1968’s Witchfinder General. As for the Blu-ray’s back cover claim that Vengeful Beauty undoubtedly inspired Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon… well… there are some aerial shenanigans in the bamboo trees that do look awfully familiar.
88 Films have done a great job with this one. The print looks terrific and the two special features are solid, especially the interview with Shaw hero Yueh Hua. If you don’t go into this expecting a masterpiece you may find The Vengeful Beauty hard to resist.
Special features: Interviews with Yueh Hua and Susan Shaw
THE VENGEFUL BEAUTY / DIRECTOR: MENG HUA HO / SCREENPLAY: ON SETZO / STARRING: PING CHEN, HUA YUEH, LIEH HO / CERT: 15 / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW