Kung fu diva Hsia Kwan-Li shines in the titular role in this underrated classic, featuring stellar choreography by the film’s villain actor, Peng Kang.
Lo Ling-Chi is a young woman who works with her husband, an escort. Her husband plans to retire so they can be happy together. However, an ambush by four masked men results in Ling-Chi being brutally raped while her husband is viciously murdered. She awakens at a temple where Abbess Wu Chi nurses her back to health and offers to teach her kung fu as long as she doesn’t have revenge on her mind.
After a few years of training, Ling-Chi is ready to leave. She decides to track down the killers. However, en route, she stops three men who attack an undercover policeman. The policeman is murdered but before he died, he asks LIng-Chi, disguised as a man, to see his superior. The captain explains a group of bandits have been causing trouble for many years. Ling-Chi offers to go undercover for the police. Little does she know that the leader of the bandits is Kwong Wu-Chi, the same man who murdered her husband.
Lee Tso-Nam has directed some interesting films in his prolific career. He is perhaps best known for directing The Tattoo Connection (1978) starring Jim Kelly and the underrated Invincible Kung Fu Legs (1980) starring Tan Tao-Liang and Hsia Kwan-Li. Here, he highlights the talents of Ha, a Taiwanese opera trained star, as she gives out one of her best kung fu performances to date.
Instead of playing the precocious brat as seen in Invincible Kung Fu Legs, Hsia plays a woman hell-bent on revenge against the bandits who raped her and murdered her husband. At first, she is happy to be riding alongside her husband, who is hired to escort a jade. However, it is when the bandits arrive that she is vulnerable and eventually raised for a few years in a temple, where she learns martial arts. However, her teacher, the local abbess, does not want her to use her skills for revenge as karma will strike. So what does she do? Go undercover to help the police nail the bandits.
With that said, it is apparent that Jackie Chan has called Peng Kang one of the best stuntmen in the industry. Having worked with Chan on a number of the classic films, this film is definitely one of Peng’s best. Playing the golden-haired Kwong Wu-Chi, Peng is menacing both acting wise and when he unleashes his deadly skills. He is joined by the likes of Ho Hing-Nam, Wong Chi-Sang, Sit Hon, Shih Ting-Ken, and Mau Ging-Shun as some of his fellow bandits who eventually get theirs from the revenge seeking Ha.
Peng not only played the lead villain. He also served as the film’s martial arts choreographer with assistance by the late Blacky Ko. Peng has Hsia’s character trained in the 8-Step Dragon Fist while his character is trained in an interesting style known as the “Twin Boxing” technique. Peng does make good use of Ha’s opera background, which allows her to gracefully move with ease in terms of acrobatics and kicking. The finale, pitting Ha against Peng is nicely done as Peng even takes elements from his own choreography from Invincible Kung Fu Legs to make this truly one of the best end fights in a classic kung fu film.
The Woman Avenger is definitely an underrated classic thanks to the performances by Hsia Kwan-Li and Peng Kang with one of the best end fights in the classic kung fi genre. Definitely worth seeing.
WFG RATING: B+
A Hong Kong Jade Dragon Film Co. Ltd. Film. Director: Lee Tso-Nam. Producer: Wu Yu-Ling. Writer: Chang Chien-Chi. Cinematography: Chuang Yan-Chien. Editing: Huang Chiu-Kuei.
Cast: Hsia Kwan-Li, Peng Kang, Wong Chi-Sang, Sit Hon, Shih Ting-Ken, Tai Yee-Ha, Ho Hing-Nam, Henry Luk, Mau Ging-Shun.