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  Lady Professional, The lethal Lily
Year: 1971
Director: Matsuo Akinori
Stars: Lily Ho Li, Chang Pei-shan, Ching Miao, Huang Tsung-hsun, Chan Shen, Lee Sau Kei, Bolo Yeung Tze, Gai Yuen, Yasuyoshi Shikamura, Cheung Ging Boh, Joe Cheung Tung Cho, Fei Lian, Gam Gwan, Gwok Wai, Hung Ling Ling, Lee Ho, Pak Liu, Tsang Choh Lam, Yee Kwan
Genre: Action, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: In a dizzying opening, shot with hand-held cameras, a mysterious lady assassin (Lily Ho Li) kills a man on a rollercoaster using her lethal compact makeup box. As she flees the scene, a miniskirted cutie identifies her as local florist, Ge Tianli. Sleazy Xiao Jiang (Chang Pei-shan) sees her as his meal ticket. Two years later, Tianli is running a café and caring for her sick mother when Xiao blackmails her into carrying out another hit. Business tycoons, Mr. Fei (Ching Miao) and An Bingxin (Huang Tsung-hsun) want to silence a jailbird who knows too much about their criminal past. Tianli does the job, but her employers try to kill with a sabotaged car. She survives and goes gunning for revenge.

This Shaw Bros. thriller was one of two movies directed by Matsuo Akinori, under the alias Mai Chi Ho, although some sources credit Kuei Chi-hung (Bamboo House of Dolls (1973)) as co-director. The studio hired several Japanese filmmakers to bring their distinctive touch to a number of thrillers, musicals and dramas throughout the sixties and early seventies, with most adopting Chinese pseudonyms to stave off resentment over World War Two. Japanese and Hong Kong crime thrillers were polls apart at the time. The Lady Professional tries to meld the stylized, comic book action of the former with the gritty, social conscience of the latter, but doesn’t entirely succeed.

An elaborate set-up suggests the plot is more complicated than it turns out to be. Like Don Siegel’s The Killers (1964), a hired killer turns detective to investigate the reasons behind the murder she committed. Flashbacks reveal Tianli’s father was killed and her home set ablaze by the man who became her first victim, while a twist reveals one gangster is dating her best friend, but the script makes little of these details. What emerges is an efficient thriller, but skin deep. Lily Ho Li shows her subtlety as she flits from wide-eyed family girl to moody, no-nonsense assassin, often within a single scene. Yet this film trades mostly on her iconic status as Hong Kong’s premier femme fatale of the era. Her lethal compact is a nifty gadget that fires needle-thin bullets and she looks very cool in an array of black leather outfits.

The action highlight is Lily’s battle with a couple of brick-smashing, girder-bending bodybuilders and an acrobat who dresses like Jason King (ask your parents). It’s bloody and brutal, with Lily making gory use of some construction machinery. A Japanese thriller would have had the heroine escape to fight another day. Here we have a moralistic coda that suggests Tianli will hand herself over to the cops. In Hong Kong cinema even a vengeful Bruce Lee wound up carted away by the police in The Big Boss (1971) and Game of Death (1978). Oh, and the finale features Lily dressed as a nun. Not my bag exactly, but whatever works for you…
Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam


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