Smuggled into Hong Kong and held captive alongside other poor migrants by Triad traffickers, pretty Lan Hsiao-Tieh (Lu Hsiao-Fen) is beaten and sexually assaulted by brutal gang boss Hu Chi (Miao Tan). Using her kung fu skills Hsiao-Tieh turns the tables, take out most of the gang and escapes along with fellow captives Fang (Richard Cui Shou-Ping), Cha Lung (Tsai Hung) and Pao-Liang (Gam Sap-Yee). Sometime later Hsiao-Tieh's crew eke a meager living on the mean streets of Hong Kong, doing whatever they can to survive. They move from stealing groceries and picking pockets to jewel theft and more audacious crimes. When Hsiao-Tieh unwittingly steals a wallet belonging to Chief Detective Lu (Lui Ming) she and her gang fall into a police ambush. However Lu takes note of Hsiao-Tieh's cunning, resourcefulness and skill and makes her an offer.
'Black Movies' were a sub-genre of violent, neo-noir style female-driven crime thrillers that blossomed in Taiwan in the early Eighties although critics and filmmakers at the time preferred the term "social-realist crime films." However it was the alternate that became the definitive label. Especially in the wake of Hou Chi-Jan's 2005 documentary Taiwanese Black Movies that sparked a reappraisal of films hitherto dismissed as exploitation schlock. While commonly thought to have begun with Ulysses Au-Yeung Jun's true crime story The First Error Step (1979), the genre's biggest hits were headlined actress Lu Hsiao-Fen. On the Society File of Shanghai (1981) and The Lady Avenger (1981) made Hsiao-Fen an immediate star and Pink Thief sees the sultry star uphold her image as a fierce yet sultry avenging angel.
While Taiwanese black movies operate within established traditions of exploitation cinema, spotlighting sleaze, violence and nudity, they also foreground a strain of strident social commentary that resonated with critics and audiences alike. In Pink Thief director Yueh Chieh-Feng interweaves lurid thrills with evidently sincere empathy for the plight of migrant workers. The film's first half follows Hsiao-Tieh and friends as the most extreme example of the capitalist machine (crooked businessmen, triad thugs) leave them downtrodden, brutalized and exploited. "Hong Kong is no place for human beings" laments Cha Lung. Indeed Pink Thief's portrayal of Hong Kong as a place obsessed with fast money and designer goods while all but indifferent to the pain of its workers is so bleak some hold the film up as communist propaganda. Nevertheless it weaves a compelling tale of desperate downtrodden folk surviving by their wits as Lan Hsiao-Tieh and Detective Lu enter into a game of cat and mouse.
Thereafter the plot takes an interesting twist. Detective Lu offers Hsiao-Tieh and her crew amnesty if she infiltrates a far deadlier crime ring run by the evil Hao (ever-oily Tien Feng). When Hsiao-Tieh recognizes Hao's right-hand man as dastardly rapist Hu Chi she readily agrees. Even though it means prostituting herself as greasy old Hao's mistress. From here on Pink Thief unexpectedly becomes a more lighthearted affair, losing some of its edge. Instead Chieh-Feng amps up his more crowd-pleasing exploitation tactics. Set to an interesting score that alternates broody electro-rock not far removed from a Michael Mann thriller and excerpts from the soundtrack to Planet of the Apes, subsequent antics throw in a fun kung fu-style training montage as hitherto mooching hobo Old Lai (Chan Wai-Lau) reveals himself to be a master thief passing on his skills to Hsiao-Tieh's crew. That is followed by an outrageous cat-fight in a jacuzzi pitting Hsiao-Tieh against Hao's leopardskin-clad ex-girlfriend and two sidekicks adorned in fetching black capes and red lingerie. A sequence clearly contrived solely as an excuse to get our heroine soaking wet in her underwear. Through it all beautiful Lu Hsiao-Fen makes for an excellent scowling badass lead and somehow remains glamourous no matter what drudgery the plot slings her way.