Angel With the Iron Fists

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“From Hong Kong With Love.”

Swinging wildly between the surprisingly smart and the brain-numbingly stupid, this 1967 Hong Kong film is, in the end, not much more than a bad James Bond knock-off, despite its female lead. The heroine, Luo Na (Ho), is unsubtly named Agent 009, and goes to Hong Kong, posing as the mistress of an imprisoned gangster, who supposedly knows where he hid his ill-gotten gains. This brings her to the attention of the Dark Angels, whose leader is played by Tina Chin-Fei. This is a surprisingly gynocentric organization, owning both a vast, sprawling, underground lair and fetching two-piece uniforms. Keen to find out what Lona knows, they recruit her – which was 009’s cunning plan all along.

As well as straight out lifting some Bond musical cues, the makers go with the same kind of gadgets, Luo Na being given an entire arsenal of lethal purses, perfume and jewels before entering the Dark Angels’ lair. She also has some nifty sunglasses which allow her to tell when someone has been in her room, and Ho plays her as smartly competent, not relying on her sex appeal to get the job done. Or, at least, not relying entirely on her sex appeal, for she has to lure in high-level minion, Tieh Hu (Ching), which doesn’t sit well with his girlfriend, nightclub singer Dolly (Fan). If you can detect the faint whiff of Eau de Imminent Catfight, you’re not wrong.

The problem is mostly the villains, who appear to have strayed in from Austin Powers. For instance, there’s one scene where Luo Na is on a reconnaissance mission. Surprised by three guards, she engages in fisticuffs with them for while, and only then pulls a gun on them. They simply slouch off, shame-faced, and she continues reconnaissancing. Perhaps they were too embarrassed at being beaten by a woman to, oh, RAISE THE GODDAMN ALARM? And if ever I become an Evil Overlord, I will be sure not to discuss specific details, down to the flight numbers, of my top-secret plan to flood the world with a new, powerful drug, in front of the most recent recruit, immediately following her initiation.

But there’s one thing I have to say: in terms of dealing with any treachery, the Dark Angels get the full 10/10 for style. Here’s what happens after the leader discovers one of her “branch managers” skimmed $100,000 off the takings. I laughed like a drain, at this hip sixties update to the staple of classical kung-fu film, the flying guillotine. Just a shame this kind of goofy invention is rarely found outside the lair of Evil, Inc., such as the leader’s Rosa Klebb-inspired footwear. It doesn’t help that Ho’s action talents are clearly limited – the lengthy “swimsuit show” of no purpose was particularly aggravating. The movie did prove successful enough to merit a sequel the following year, Angel Strikes Again. I’ll be tracking that down because, for all its flaws, if it contains one moment like the flying guillotine one here, it’ll be worth the investment.

Dir: Lo Wei
Star: Lily Ho, Tang Ching, Tina Chin Fei, Fanny Fan