Angel with the Iron Fists

The early Bond films seemed to have an enormous frothy influence on the Hong Kong film scene as there were many films that came out in both the Mandarin as well as the Cantonese film industries that were clearly inspired by the doings of Sean Connery as the implacably cool British agent. The director of this film, Lo Wei, had two other films of this ilk already in his pocket – The Golden Buddha and The Black Falcon both of which starred Paul Chang Chung – when he created this pop pastiche. This one shares many of the same characteristics – big gilded sets, cruel masterminds and lots of toys to play with – except that it transforms the hero into a sleek heroine with Lily Ho as the deliciously hip Agent 009 who is by turns hard hitting and seductive in this 1967 adventure. This is a lot of 60’s retro fun though one should be aware that even though Bond inspires this film it is done with a tiny fraction of the budget of those films. Still it looks good, moves at a fast clip and Lily and the two female villains are a total pleasure to watch.
The Chief Inspector (Lo Wei) has summoned Agent 009 to Hong Kong after the previous agent was assassinated by seven killers lined up like a firing squad while trying to call for help in a telephone booth. Lily arrives from London attired in mod Carnaby Street gear with a plan to bring the “Dark Angel” gang to justice. They have their hands in drugs, smuggling, murder and anything else that turns a dirty profit. Interestingly, the gang is very matriarchal in nature with a female boss (Tina Chin Fei) running the whole show with an iron hand. She is very much an equal opportunity employer as much of her staff is female as well and at one point when one of her male lieutenants forces himself on a woman, she shows him no mercy. First spotted with her legs casually crossed on a desk, a long cigarette holder in her hand and adorned in a tight militaristic high button pantsuit with gold lame boots, she is too fashionable to be all bad – though her use of a modern day guillotine to punish her people (Helen Ma in a very quick cameo!) seemed a bit highhanded – or would that be headhanded?
Lily poses as the girlfriend of a head gangster currently residing in jail and gets the attention of the "Dark Angels" – not a difficult task for the dazzling Lily - by pretending to want to buy some diamonds. She makes contact with one of the gang’s male subordinates named Cheng (Tang Ching) and soon has him under her delectable thumb – which doesn’t please his nightclub singing girlfriend and occasional killer, the voluptuously curvy Miss Dolly (Fannie Fan). Later this little relationship between Lily and Cheng leads to a smash and grab fight between the two ladies. Outfitted by a Q like character with all the gadgets a Hong Kong spy can afford – a ring flashlight, infrared sunglasses, watch bombs and a purse that seconds as a pistol – every accessory that a modern day woman should have – Lily goes undercover to join the gang.
The bad guys have their own toys as well – camera cuff links, matches that knock you out, hidden video cameras that transmit live back to HQ, poison spiked shoes ala Rosa Klebb in From Russia with Love and of course what every mastermind must have – a hidden underground cavernous headquarters decorated in the latest in recroom polyester/shag style. They also have their very own logo! You have to wonder exactly where they get their interior decorators from for these lairs of larceny. “We have a wonderful space that we would like you to decorate. Something that combines modern and gauche with just a touch of Flash Gordon. Oh and we need these devices that can come down and take off someone’s head and would like them to match the overall décor. Where is this place? Well you have to go to this hill, pick up the third rock from the left and ring the bell underneath it”.
Lily is a treat – changing clothes faster than matador ole’ing a bull, tough as nails as she battles herself out of various scenarios, always cool as a cucumber or as seductively vulnerable as she needs to be to get her way – just completely in charge of the situation at all times. She doesn’t even get loaded with a typical love interest but just uses men to accomplish her goal and then jettisons them. Fanny Fan isn’t hard on the eyes either – a sultry siren who oozes sex like a leaky faucet.
Lily Ho has perhaps become my favorite Shaw actress taking on all sorts of roles in her films from a spy to a jewel thief (The Venus Tear Diamond) to a singer (Hong Kong Nocturne) to a comedic love struck girl (A Time for Love) to a revenge seeking gun toting killer (The Lady Professional) to her most famous role as Ainu in Intimate Confessions of a Chinese Courtesan. She is like a sleek steel edged stiletto in all of these – extremely beautiful of course but with eyes that always have a tinge of sadness around them and a sign of her inner vulnerability like the world somehow did her wrong and she is out to right it. She may not be a great actress per se but more importantly - Lily Ho rocks.

A sequel to this film – Angel Strikes Again – came out the following year.

My rating for this film: 7.5