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  Lady Whirlwind Buster of Opium dens and bad boyfriends
Year: 1972
Director: Huang Feng
Stars: Angela Mao, Chang Yi, Pai Ying, June Wu Ching-Erh, Liu Ah-Na, Chin Yuet-Sang, Sammo Hung, Chin Nan-Yi, Yeung Wai, Law Kei
Genre: Martial ArtsBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Strolling through the forest sweet young maid Hsuang Hsuang (June Wu Ching-Erh), so good they named her twice, happens upon a terrible fight. Ling Shi-Hao (Chang Yi) is ambushed by a gang of evildoers led by dastardly Japanese crime boss Tung Ku (Pai Ying) and left for dead. Three years later, Shi-Hao lives a quiet life in anonymity with the woman that nursed him back to health, none other than Hsuang Hsuang. However, unstoppable kung fu badass Tien Li-Chung (Angela Mao) bursts into the casino run by Tung Ku and his whip-wielding lover/boss Tiao Ta Niang (Liu Ah-Na), wipes the floor with all their henchman then demands to see Ling Shi-Hao. At first Hsuang Hsuang worries Tien Li-Chung might be a jilted lover but the young woman arrives on their doorstep with vengeance in mind. Turns out Shi-Hao abandoned Li-Chung's pregnant sister to die alone. Now she wants him dead only Tung Ku and his gang are determined to kill him first.

One should note that, along with the casino, Tung Ku and his gang also run an opium den. For if there is one thing Angela Mao can't stand (aside from guys that knock up her sister then go on the run) it is opium dens. She took down dozens in films from The Opium Trail (1973) to Stoner (1974). Released on the American grindhouse circuit as Deep Thrust in a tacky bid to cash in on 'seminal' hardcore porn opus Deep Throat (1973), Lady Whirlwind was among a series of chopsocky favourites Mao made with veteran actor turned director Huang Feng. A prolific actor since the early Fifties, Feng went on to write screenplays for such celebrated Hong Kong auteurs as Li Han-Hsiang and Yueh Feng (no relation). Later Shaw Brothers production manager Raymond Chow promoted him to director for the swordplay adventure The Crimson Charm (1971). When Chow founded his own studio Golden Harvest it was Feng who directed their first feature The Angry River (1971) which was also Angela Mao's first film.

Mao and Feng were two-thirds of Golden Harvest's hit creative team in the early Seventies along with action choreographer and future superstar Sammo Hung. Hung regularly played small roles in these films too. Here he is the chief thug at the casino on the receiving end of Angela's furious fists. Later Huang Feng wrote the script for Hung's directorial debut: Iron Fisted Monk (1978). Mao was far and away the most popular of the Seventies kung fu queens. She cemented the archetype of the female martial artist for an international audience: fierce, fiery and morally incorruptible. A no-nonsense badass albeit with not much personality either. More interesting developments for Asian action heroines were occurring elsewhere but it was the more accessible if one-dimensional antics of Angela Mao that grabbed the imagination of grindhouse fans like Quentin Tarantino. Lady Whirlwind does put an interesting twist on Angela Mao's fiery persona as she ends up protecting Ling Shi-Hao from the bad guys so she can kill him herself. However, Huang Feng does not develop the premise beyond the most basic level. The plot is mere narrative glue designed to bind together Sammo Hung's blistering, visceral set-pieces.

On the surface Lady Whirlwind has intriguing feminist undertones. Aside from Mao's vengeful but compassionate heroine, kindhearted Hsuang Hsuang proves another strong character. She risks her life to save the man she loves, forgives his past mistakes and even takes out a few goons herself. We also have whip-cracking tigress Tiao Ta Niang who keeps bad guy Tung Ku on an amusingly short leash, bristling when he even jokes about visiting the local brothel. Yet the plot consigns these potentially interesting, tangled female relationships to the peripheries to focus on trite kung fu film clich├ęs. The film is as much a Chang Yi vehicle as one for Angela Mao. While Tien Li-Chung is left nursing an injured Hsuang Hsuang, Shi-Hao happens across a snake-bitten elderly martial arts master in the most convoluted manner possible. His kindness convinces the old man to lend him his secret kung fu manual. Yeah, that old chestnut. Thereafter Shi-Hao endures the familiar punishing training regime (he punches rocks, kicks the heads off straw dolls and leaps onto tall buildings) that seems to belong in a different movie. We never learn why Shi-Hao abandoned Angela's sister. Nor why the bad guys were after him in the first place. Despite that the finale conflict and resolution prove fairly satisfying. Another Seventies kung fu queen Polly Shang Kwan headlined Lady Whirlwind Against the Rangers (1974) which despite the American release title was a bogus sequel that had nothing to do with the Angela Mao film. Music lifted from among others Doctor Zhivago (1965), vintage westerns and Diamonds Are Forever (1971).

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam


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