The Kiss of Death

This gnarly 1973 Shaw flick comes at you like a left hook out of the dark and has you grimacing for another punch through your shattered teeth. Pessimistically fatalistic, it spreads hopelessness like an ever-expanding dirty stain on your nice clean underwear. Female revenge films have long held a respected place in Hong Kong cinema, but this gritty plunge into darkness was one of the first in this genre to remove it from the realms of noble justice and make it real like a kick in the stomach. Revenge may be sweet but here it is also grimy, painful, bloody and ultimately nihilistic. With its driving guitar beat, florid visuals, intermittent perversities and rhythmic narrative, Kiss of Death reeks of slick style and sexual degradation.
Chen Ping and Lo Lieh
From my so-far limited exposure to the Shaw Sleaze, they generally seem to break down into two distinct types. There are those that almost reluctantly show nudity and sexual content, but are at their heart conventional melodramas overlaid with just enough titillation to spice up the trailers in an attempt to bring in an audience. These tend to have a moral opinion that sexual promiscuity will lead you to ruin – but lets show some naked breasts in the meantime before we all go to Hell! Then there are the exploitation films that feel right at home in Hell and have no moral underpinnings, they just want to have some fun and gouge out your eyes with a sizzling and frantic display of garish images, sexual couplings and cruel violence. Into this category would fall Sexy Killer, The Bamboo House of Dolls and this one, Kiss of Death.
Chen Ping and Chen Ching
Ling (Chen Ping) is just a simple factory girl until five brutes take her to the roof of her building and rape her repeatedly. Devastated and at the same time shamed, she keeps this to herself and goes back to work but the nightmares of that incident constantly flash through her mind in red screaming images. It only gets worse when she begins bleeding and realizes that she has contracted a venereal disease from the rape. Too embarrassed to go to a doctor, she instead begins wandering the streets in despair and emerging madness. One evening she thinks she spots one of her assailants and follows him into a hostess bar to confront him, but it turns out to be someone else (Simon Yuen). Nevertheless, this moment of possible retribution calms her down and steels her resolve to find the men and mete out her justice. So she asks the club owner, Wong (Lo Lieh), to let her work there and he gives his o.k. Wong is slightly crippled and has to use a cane to get around, but an early bar fight shows that he has lots of kung fu moves left in him. Ling begins rooming with another one of the bar girls, Hung (Chen Ching), who is a tough cookie and deadly with a deck of cards – not the playing kind, but the slicing kind.
Chen Ping, Fam Mei Sheng and Chan Shen
She bides her time in the bar, cozying up to the customers, drinking into the late night and trying not to allow her feelings of depression to overwhelm her. She finds out to her dismay that she has likely contracted an especially vile strain of syphilis  - Vietnam Rose – that is incurable and will eventually drive her insane. Before it comes though, she has business to finish and she recruits Wong to teach her kung fu – “teach me killing kung fu,” she implores and the lessons begin. The man’s weak spot she is told is his groin and she learns to kick it as if it’s as big and soft as a rotting pumpkin. Chen meanwhile teaches her how to make good use of those cards as Ling sprays them around the apartment like deadly missile guided mosquitoes. Finally one night Crocodile (Kong Do) walks in – a nasty sneer printed on his face. He doesn’t remember her, but she remembers him – his face burnt into her retinas like a scar – and she asks him to take her out, have some fun – she leaves with him – and a very long knife in her boot. He is the first one to feel her anger slice through his vital signs – do you remember me she screams at him before she kills him.
Chen Ching, Chen Ping, Lo Lieh and Hui Siu-hung
With the first one down, she is able to piece together who the others are – Pimp (a very young Hui Siu Hung), Atom (the always villainous Chan Shen), Heroin (Lam Man Wai) and the grizzled Wong (Fan Mei Sheng) – and begins to hunt them down. Soon though they figure out who is after them and the hunter becomes the hunted. It is very dark, tense, queasy and gritty and plays out like noir with a hungry grudge.
This was Chen Ping’s debut film and though she doesn’t really bring a lot of depth to her role, she is effectively sympathetic and starkly vulnerable. There is a fair amount of kung fu performed by her and in truth it is not very credible – but she was a sex star, not a kung fu star – and this film was trying to combine both aspects of rock hard sexual content and tough fast action and there were probably not a lot of actresses who could do both somewhat effectively – or would want to. Lo Lieh is great as always – I so enjoy seeing him as the good guy from time to time and wonder why he ended up being slotted as the villain in so many films. The director Ho Meng-hua has a filmography stretching all the way back to 1958 but there wasn’t a lot of evidence prior to this that would make one believe that this sort of film would be his forte. Most of his previous films were fantasy or kung fu period pieces with the Monkey King films perhaps being his best-known work. After this though he was to achieve cult status with Black Magic I & II and Mighty Peking Man.
The 1988 film Her Vengeance was based on this film, but is shorn of most of the sexual exploitation factor and is focused exclusively on revenge and pain. Pauline Wong gives a riveting performance as a woman full of hate and single minded purpose. It is a much fiercer and satisfying film overall as it is relentlessly serious. The Kiss of Death has to juggle both the leering sexual subject matter and the revenge factor and though this makes for an entertaining broth, by doing so it also loses some of its anger and concentration. In the end by attempting to be an exploitation film, it becomes just that and can’t rise above the limitations of the genre. Body Weapon, a 1999 film, also contains some of the elements of The Kiss of Death with Angie Cheung also being raped and infected with a venereal disease and learning how to kill her rapists by a well-placed kick to the scrotum. It is though one of my least liked films and learned no lessons from either The Kiss of Death or Her Vengeance.
Wang Han Chen, Tsang Choh Lam and ?

My rating for this film: 7.5