Deaf Mute Heroine

A rhythmic hypnotic drumbeat cascades over the solitary female character silhouetted against the blood red background. The pace of the drumbeat is quickened as she is surrounded by a large group of men with deadly intentions. Her sword is raised above her head in cutting edge readiness as the men circle around her looking for an opportunity for a quick strike, for a quick kill, for a quick reward. They attack – one by one, two by two – in a fierce rush, in a cacophony of sound – the woman becomes a quick silver flashing and spinning instrument of death – her sword swirling and slicing – everywhere – then the men draw back – many of them left on the ground with the stillness of death hovering above them. They catch their breath and attack again – and again – each time to be driven off  - with more lifeless forms covering the ground like piles of leaves on a late autumn day. One left and a geyser of blood signals his demise. The woman is alone once more – only kept company by the ghosts of the mass of slain men around her. The drums continue – but she doesn’t hear them; she is silent because she cannot speak – she is the Deaf Mute Heroine! She sheathes her bloody sword with a snap of her wrist and walks away. The drums stop.
So begins this very cool 1971 film directed by Wu Ma and starring Helen Ma. It is considered one of the classic female martial arts films from Hong Kong and for the most part it lives up to its reputation. Helen Ma didn’t strike me as overly gifted in her action scenes – a bit slow of foot and I think doubled for parts of it – but she does bring grace and a strong brooding presence to her role. Wu Ma’s direction, editing, choreography and imaginative use of the environment more than make up for Helen’s lack of martial arts skills. The fights certainly push the limits of believability, but are wonderfully inventive, very violent and terrific fun to watch.
After the initial action (which actually takes place as the opening credits unfold), Helen escapes with a bag full of valuable pearls, but soon is being chased after by a gang of villains led by another tough female. Helen is attacked again and is badly wounded but is able to escape into the woods where she collapses. A kindly farmer takes her in and tends to her cuts and of course they fall in love. He isn’t in the least bit suspicious about her wounds,  her background or how she is able to catch a fly in her chopsticks (a device of course that was used in The Karate Kid).
This being a martial arts action film this idyllic life eventually comes to an end when the villainous female and at least forty of her male minions track Helen down. The fight is lengthy, bloody, full of flying hats, flying darts and flying daggers, incredulous jumps, piercing poles, twisting somersaults and death. Lots of death. This is only the warm up though for Helen’s final encounter with a masterful swordsman looking to avenge himself. This final duel is a sumptuous smorgasbord of kung fu swordsmanship that is just palpitating.

The character and this film should have been a perfect set up for a series in the manner of Japanese films like Lone Wolf and Zatoichi – but regrettably that never occurred. You are left wanting to know more about this mysterious woman – where did she come from, how did she become so masterful with the sword – questions that go unanswered as she walks away – alone again in her silence.

This film has been released by Xenon on video (oddly under its real name!). The image is not very clear (pictures above are from the back of the box), the subs often are cut off at the side or fall below the screen (though dialogue is not that essential in this film) and there is a logo in the top left hand screen for the entire film – but as far as I know this is the only available place to find this film – and I am glad I did.

My rating for this film: 7.5