The Kiss Of Death is remembered as erotic star Chen Ping's Shaw movie debut but it is also a tale of revenge that is as bleak as it is violent. Stephen Tan reviews.

THE ASIAN VALUES DVD REVIEW

Before the emergence of AIDS as a deadly killer, in the '70s, the dreaded sexually-transmitted disease was a form of syphilis commonly known as Vietnam Rose (which was supposed to have been brought to Hongkong by American sailors during the Vietnam War). For The Kiss Of Death (Shaw, 1973), director Ho Meng-hua (who at that time was better known for The Monkey Goes West and The King With My Face), used the disease as a jump-off point and has Taiwanese sex bombshell, Chen Ping, in the lead.

Factory worker Chu Ling (Chen Ping) is raped one night after work by five men and is infected with Vietnam Rose. As fate (and the script) has it, she runs across one of the men and follows him into a bar. While she did not get her man in the ensuing confrontation, she manages to find work as a hostess in the bar but even get the crippled manager (Lo Lieh) to teach her kung fu. (Seeing that she doesn't know any kung fu, Lo Lieh tells her that the fastest way to get her guy is to go for the man's scrotum). Eventually she locates the men who wronged her to exact her revenge.

 

With a few minor changes, the synopsis of the film could easily be applied to a period wu xia (swordfighting) movie. But by then, wu xia movies were on the wane and, with Chen Ping in the cast, the story becomes secondary.

For the audience, the newcomer was a delight. If the rape sequence is not obvious enough, there are several scenes of Chen disrobing in the bathroom and going under the shower. In another scene, the "elder sister" of the night club (Lily Chen-ching) sticks her hand into Chen's blouse to "check" the goods! And she has to strip (don't ask why) and spread her legs so that an unscrupulous doctor can examine her infection! As a bonus, the movie also shows - with more nudity - how Pimp (a very young looking Hui Siu-hung, a familiar face in many Johnny To movies) drugs young girls, gets them into bed and blackmails them into prostitution.


Regardless of the sex and nudity involved, The Kiss Of Death can be seen as a strong vehicle for any actress in her debut movie. From innocent factory worker to bashed-up victim to deranged avenger (with uncontrollable hatred), there is a range of emotions on display and Chen gives a convincing performance. Nevermind that the trauma of rape is easily glossed over or the plight of a person infected with a sexually-transmitted disease is underplayed - Chen never even goes to consult a recognised health authority - or that she masters her fighting techniques in record time. Needless to say, the movie propelled Chen Ping as a mainstay in Shaw's erotic films

But The Kiss Of Death is more than just a grim and gritty erotic thriller. For a start, the director manages to get notable actors to appear in what is nothing more than cameo roles - Simon Yuen Siu-tin (Jackie Chan's sifu in Snake In The Eagle's Shadow and countless '50s/''60s Cantonese films) plays a lecherous old man; Kong Do (baddie in numerous kung fu movies) is the first rapist to get his balls stabbed) and only Lo Lieh gets what is probably seen as an extended supporting role.


Lo Lieh and Chen Ping.
 

Because the film is fashioned like a wu xia movie, it is also a breathtaking actioner. First there is the Event - in this case, the rape, which is agonising. Then there is the "training sequence," which flows by quickly. And instead of Killer Darts, you have Killer Cards (playing cards with blades inserted into them to give the term gilt-edge security a whole different meaning). While the avenging woman theme is not new in the Shaw canon, here the revenge motif is not only relentlessly paced (there is a nicely played-out scene in a cemetery) but the showdown itself, a protracted sequence that starts in a gambling room and then cascades into a spiral staircase before ending on the street below, is especially brutal (Chen gets her face bashed in by one of her rapists wearing a knuckleduster).

In the past, The Kiss Of Death might have been seen largely as Chen Ping' s debut film. With this Shaw reissue, the film is seen to be much more. It is the exploitation movie that someone like Roger Corman wished he had made - lots of sex, lots of action and a little topicality to be relevant to the times. And it is to the director’s credit that he kept the pessimistic and bleak ending (probably a nod to such films as Chang Cheh's Dead End and Chen Kuan Tai's Boxer From Shangtung) - nevermind the takings, it’s balls to the floor.

Note: The Kiss Of Death DVD is not available in $ingapore.









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