Girls, guns and gadgets grace this Shaw Bros. spy caper. Hong Kong is being terrorized by the insidious Devil Girl’s Gang, who rub out a top Interpol agent in the opening scene. A beautiful, mysterious girl (Lily Ho Li) comes to town, carrying a cache of diamonds, on the run from a mobster nicknamed Bald Head. Suave jewel-dealer Cheng Tiehu (Tang Ching) comes to her aid when she is targeted by hired killers, much to the annoyance of his girlfriend, nightclub chanteuse Miss Dolly (Fanny Fan). Both work secretly for the Devil Girl’s Gang, into which they soon enlist their protégé. Proving a dab hand at espionage and assassinations, she wins the trust of the Chief (Tina Chin Fei) who assigns her a key role in their plot to take over the world with a new wonder drug. But is there more to the doe-eyed, gadget-girl than meets the eye?
In the Sixties Hong Kong cinema was dominated by female stars. This coupled with the international vogue for spy movies gave birth to the so-called “Jane Bond” craze. Almost every major Chinese actress headlined their own spy thriller: Jeanette Lin Tsui in The Golden Buddha (1966), Cheng Pei Pei in Operation Lipstick (1968), Tina Chin Fei in Summons to Death (1967), and many more. But it was multi-talented Lily Ho Li who really took to the genre, carving a niche as the “Jane Bond” par excellence in films like this, The Brain Stealers (1968), and The Lady Professional (1971). While her award winning career highs were yet to come, Angel with the Iron Fists presents Lily at the height of Sixties glamour, cover girl gorgeous in an array of stylish mod outfits, but performing with subtlety and hints of steel.
Although it suffers from Lo Wei’s usual inattention to pace (his cameo as a bumptious police chief doesn’t add up to much either), the film crafts a solid, involving story that unfolds with some gripping twists and turns. It plays up the mystery of who our heroine is and what she really wants and, with spy film regulars Tang Ching and Tina Chin Fei cast against type, keeps us guessing who is good and bad. Our chief villain doesn’t even turn up until halfway through, but crafty storytelling holds our attention with some witty set-pieces: an agent pretends to be a lecherous drunk while leaving coded messages for our heroine; an ingenious fake assassination; and a shootout in a hair salon where Lily makes lethal use of assorted beauty products. Connoisseurs will also relish a great catfight between Lily and Fanny Fan.
Once Tina Chin Fei arrives on the scene, resplendent in her white catsuit and gold go-go boots, the film takes off into sci-fi territory. Production values are noticeably more sumptuous compared to other HK spy movies resulting in lavish, Ken Adam-style space-age sets, better choreographed fights (Lily takes them on three at a time in her chic ninja gear), and panoramic scenery. Of course no self-respecting super-spy would be complete without their crazy gadgets. Lily is outfitted with infrared sunglasses, perfume that sprays knockout gas, a machinegun purse, an exploding wristwatch, and hair-band radio. Not to be outdone the bad guys wield cigarette lighters that shoot poison gas, your standard trick laden cars with hidden machine guns, and the fearsome Tunnel of Fatal Light that disintegrates all who pass through without protective gear. The filmmakers don’t stint on the eye-candy either with lovely Tina commanding a bevy of international beauties and an undercover assignment at a swimsuit show providing a shameless excuse to ogle Lily in a bikini. Like the best Sixties spy movies, it’s a sunny confection that harks back to more innocent times.