Fatal Claws, Deadly Kicks a.k.a. Woman Avenger

I was so taken by the physical skills and impish charms of Hsia Kwan Lee in The Leg Fighters that I wanted to check out this, her most famous film. It doesn’t disappoint. In a film career that seemingly only spanned a few years, her reputation has increased over the intervening time. She lacks perhaps the intensity of Angela Mao, but she is a pleasure to watch in action. As a graduate of the Lu Kwang Opera Troupe (some of her fellow classmates were Venoms Lu Feng and Ching Tien Chee) she obviously mastered acrobatics and performs some terrific flips, somersaults and cartwheels – often moves that were doubled for other kung fu female performers of the time. Entering this genre at the end of the seventies was of course the worst possible timing - at the end of the kung fu period and a few years before the girls with guns began – and perhaps this explains her paucity of roles. I went back and watched her in Zu Warriors as Brigitte Lin’s main subordinate and was surprised at how much more mature and serious she appeared only a few years after this film.
Falling into that cathartic genre of female kung fu revenge films, this one is among the best in terms of action and a focus entirely on the female character played by Hsia. I would still have to say my two favorites so far are Judy Lee in Queen Boxer and Angela Mao in Broken Oath – which both have a kick in the stomach intensity and are amazingly violent and highly satisfying. This film has nothing comparable to the exhilarating mass slaughter of the final scene in Queen Boxer or the pure hatred and determination that Angela exhibits in Broken Oath – but it has a series of one on one duels to the death that continue to hold surprises and to keep one’s attention. It looks to have a fairly low budget as it seems many of the female kung fu films did.

The Shaw Brothers primarily focused on male oriented characters in the seventies (wasting to a large degree in my opinion the talents of actresses like Sharon Yeung Pan Pan and Kara Hui Ying Hung) and though Golden Harvest did support Angela Mao – they too were basically focused on male action stars. But there was a loyal if not huge audience for female kung fu films and independent productions often from Taiwan filled this niche by making quite a few of these lower budget films starring Judy Lee or Polly Shang Kwan and others. The same trend can be seen later in the Girls with Guns films – they tended to generally have much lower production values than male action films – and were often made by independents filling a demand – D&B really being one of the only main studios to support this genre whole heartedly.

Anyway back to this film. It is revenge pure and simple. In the opening scene Hsia is raped by a group of hooligans and her husband is killed. She is found by a Buddhist nun and nursed back to health. She convinces the nun to teach her kung fu – and promises not to use her newly acquired skill to wreak vengeance upon those men. The promise is broken quickly and often. She begins tracking them down (by switching into a male disguise – a short haired wig that would fool no one as to her gender!) one by one and dispatching them in intricately choreographed fights – generally ending with a dramatic and unforgiving deathblow to a main organ. I always enjoyed her impish confident grin that she would display to her opponent just as she knew she had them sized up and their demise was clearly in the cards.
Along the way she dispatches Wong Chi Sheng and Mao Tao (Angela’s brother), but she saves her best against the final name on her mental list – the ringleader Peng Kong (also the choreographer of many of her films). The fights all pleasingly display different fighting skills of Hsia’s – usually developed around her hands and long deadly legs – but also using sticks. One of the more impressive moments is eight rapid over the shoulder kicks to an opponent behind her. Some of the fight scenes are almost too acrobatic, too choreographed as they clearly want to display these skills of hers – but in reality no one would possibly fight in such a style – but it looks great – almost a wushu gymnastic exhibit of perfectly timed movements.

My rating for this film: 7.5