Lady Exterminator [阿Sir毒后老虎槍] (1977)

Starring Chen Ping, Yueh Hua, Chung Wah, Derek Yee, Shirley Yu Sha-Li, Shut Chung-Tin, Wa Lun, Zheng Lou-Si, Jamie Luk Kim-Ming, Yeung Chi-Hing, Keung Hon, Chiang Tao, Ku Wen-Chung, Ng Hong-Sang, Stephan Yip Tin-Hang, Kong San

Directed by Sun Chung

Expectations: I enjoyed The Sexy Killer. I hope the sequel is fun, too.

Lady Exterminator is an ultra-rare Shaw Brothers film, as far as I know only surviving as a horribly degraded, full-screen bootleg of a Lebanese film print with English-dubbed dialogue and French & Arabic burned-in subtitles. Bootlegs have done a lot of harm to the kung fu DVD industry, but there are a few instances like this where bootlegs help the fan base keep an otherwise lost film alive. While this mangled print theoretically shouldn’t have any bearing on the film’s quality, it inevitably made it difficult to get into the film. I’m not usually a fan of English dubs anyway; I have a hard time connecting with characters emotionally when their dialogue doesn’t accurately reflect the emotions on-screen. Even with these factors stacked against my enjoyment of Lady Exterminator, I was still able to extract a fair amount of entertainment. The fact that it was a sequel helped, too, because I was already familiar with the characters that Chen Ping and Yueh Hua play.

A gang of criminals have discovered a police informer in their midst. They chase him through the streets and into the dank tunnels under the city, leading the pursuit to the subway system. The criminals catch the fleeing man and brutally beat him. They tie him to the subway tracks on all fours, so he is looking directly at the oncoming train as it plows into him. It’s a gripping way to open a film, and these moments of intense brutality are one of the few things helped by the horrific quality of the print. Shot in real locations around Hong Kong, filtered through multiple generations of video dubs, the brutal violence takes on the vibe of a snuff film found at the bottom of a well. Anyway, with his lead informant murdered, police detective Geng Weiping (Yueh Hua) must find a new way to get information out of the heroin-dealing drug gangs running rampant through the city. He turns to Gao Wanfei (Chen Ping), now in prison after the events of The Sexy Killer, where she took on the drug gang that killed her sister. Gao agrees, but she wants to do it right. She decides to shoot up some heroin, addicting herself so the gang believes her and easily accepts her into the fold. Now that’s commitment!

I must admit, this is a phenomenal set-up for a ’70s exploitation film. Parts of this film, specifically the action, live up to the promise of this set-up, but I found the connecting bits to be far from enjoyable. The story is about as standard and boring as they come. My attention did waver, so perhaps I missed key connections, but other than Gao hooking herself on heroin, nothing felt unique or all that interesting. I had a similar problem with The Sexy Killer because it was a remake of Coffy, but I was unable to determine if Lady Exterminator was also based on another film. I suspect not, but it’s possible.

My disconnect is certainly not only due to the story’s lack of originality. Sun Chung excellent camerawork is completely buried here; the cinematography is reduced to a washed-out glow within a limited palette. Together with the lack of widescreen, any beauty there was in the imagery is completely obliterated. I doubt it would suddenly become a masterpiece in a fully restored state, but it couldn’t hurt! I don’t foresee a restoration actually happening, so I’ll just have to watch it again and try to parse out as much as I can of the film’s technicality. These elements are part of my foundational love of film, so in their nearly complete absence I flounder a bit if the story doesn’t hook me. Lady Exterminator is a like a worst-case scenario for me, with every personal hindrance to enjoyment all converging into one experience.

If nothing else, the action is often fantastic, even in its weakened state. Chen Ping is ferocious in the role, and her fight with Shirley Yu is the standout scene of the film. As with the opening, it almost feels like you’re watching a real fight. Sun Chung’s love of slow motion shines through the murk and provides small moments of bliss, as well. The slo-mo punctuates the action beautifully, often showcasing the film’s many high falls and other great stunt work. With choreography by Tang Chia and Huang Pei-Chih, I’m sure whatever was lost in the horrid print was great, too.

I persevered through Lady Exterminator, and at its best the film delivered quality entertainment. Fingers crossed that Celestial someday uncovers the negative in a dank corner of a vault and can restore this New Wave forerunner to its original state. The debut of Shaw Brothers star Derek Yee deserves better!

Next up in this chronological journey through the Shaw Brothers Martial Arts catalog is the next film from Lau Kar-Leung, the one and only Executioners from Shaolin! See ya then!