Starring Chen Ping, Lo Lieh, Fan Mei-Sheng, Chan Shen, Chiang Tao, Hui Siu-Hung, Lin Wen-Wei, Lily Chen Ching, Wong Hon
Directed by Ho Meng-Hua
Expectations: I don’t know. I don’t expect much fighting, that’s for sure.
There’s just no way around it: The Kiss of Death is a sleazy movie. It begins with a horrific gang rape of our lead character Chu Ling (Chen Ping) by a group of local thugs who spend their days stealing jewelry and their nights raping women. While this is probably the most hard-to-watch scene in the movie, it is merely the beginning of the brutality these characters are in store for. I’m not much of an exploitation film fan so I didn’t go into this one expecting much, but I’m glad to say that there’s more here than simple shocks and gratuity. What really holds the film together is Chu Ling and her struggle dealing with her rape that opens the film.
The film is very fast-paced and wastes little time delving deep into her emotions, though. Thanks to the skills of director Ho Meng-Hua this merely means that many of her emotions are conveyed to us very quickly, and through the use of visuals rather than long, drawn-out scenes of dialogue. When we first meet Chu Ling she is working in a textile mill on rhythmic machines that pound in and out. After her rape, she’s unable to work on the machine without it reminding her of the previous night’s brutality, and she slashes the thousands of tight threads running through the machine. Her life has been shattered and she wishes for revenge.
She has zero means to exact said revenge, though, so she instead gets a job at a hostess club. The rape has also devalued her feelings of self worth, and I got the feeling that she felt this was all she was good for, even though this job put her into very uncomfortable situations. But, as luck would have it, the club is run by Wong Ta (Lo Lieh), who is something of a kung fu master even though he now walks with a cane. She must merely convince him to train her! To make matters worse, she’s also fallen ill and quickly comes to learn that she’s probably infected with Vietnam Rose, a deadly form of syphilis. As if the last few days weren’t bad enough!
Even though The Kiss of Death has quite a bit of brutal violence and gratuitous nudity, it still feels somewhat tame for an exploitation movie. To be honest, I haven’t seen a lot of exploitation movies so maybe I’m way off base. In any case, the violence is pretty brutal, where things like Fan Mei-Sheng repeatedly punching Chu Ling in the face with his spiked brass knuckles happening on the regular. These moments affected me on an emotional level, but when Chu Ling started her string of revenge kills that focused on attacking her attackers I was moved physically. As Lo Lieh tells her, “A man’s scrotum is his most precious and vulnerable part,” and boy does she ever prove that to be true. I don’t want to spoil anything, but when she literally brought the pickaxe down, you better believe I was squirmin’ in my seat.
The action is probably the film’s weakest link, as the choreography by Luk Chuen is overall fairly mediocre and uninteresting. It’s not all his fault, though, as Chen Ping just isn’t able to deliver physically like other more capable stars. I suspect this is why Lo Lieh shares some of the big action moments with her, and his use of his cane within the fights makes them more fun than they otherwise would be. The finale really excites despite all of these issues, though, thanks mostly to the resolute direction from Ho Meng-Hua. The other key to its success is just how involved I was by that point in the film; I wanted to see Chu Ling get her revenge on these vile scumbags soooooo bad.
But back to Ho Meng-Hua’s talents for a bit. While he isn’t always the most dynamic action director (and there are still quite a few poorly angled shots that betray the fantasy of the strikes landing hard and fast), Ho Meng-Hua bolsters the finale with a ton of wonderful visuals. As Chu Ling races down the stairs to avoid her remaining attackers, the handheld camera races down those same steps, and after a few flights they both turn the corner to the landing, revealing a long, cramped hallway where the rapists lay in wait. This is merely one moment in a 98-minute film full of visually interesting compositions, the best of which coming mid-way through when Chu Ling confronts one of the rapists on a dance floor crowded with happy partygoers groovin’ to the loud psychedelic rock. The whole scene plays without hearing their dialogue, except for one key line when she reveals who she is to the rapist so that he will die knowing who did him in.
The Kiss of Death is a great film, as long as you can get past the rugged brutality and the somewhat lacking action.
Next up in this chronological journey through the Shaw Brothers Martial Arts catalog is Chor Yuen’s The Bastard! See ya then!