Ho Meng-hua
Image Entertainment

Having helmed 50 films for Shaw Brothers' Studios, Ho Meng-hua's filmography reads like a history of Hong Kong Cinema from the late 1950s to the early 1980s. Directing in a variety of genres, including romance and comedy, it is Ho Meng-hua's action and horror pictures that have acquired the most attention and acclaim from cult film fans stateside. With KISS OF DEATH (Du nu), Ho Meng-hua takes a particularly dirty stab at the revenge picture, unraveling an exploitive tale of rape, retribution and crotch stabbings.

Mill worker Chu Ling (Chen Ping, THE SEXY KILLER) is returning home late one night when she is suddenly confronted by five strange men. As Ling attempts to avoid her would be attackers, a frantic game of cat and mouse ensues, but trapped within the confines of her large apartment building, Chu Ling is left with no where to run but up. Cornered on the apartment building's roof, Chu Ling is raped by all five men and left for dead. Chu Ling attempts to return to a life of normalcy but such hopes come to a grinding halt when shooting abdominal pain and a bloody discharge prove to be initial signs of debilitating and deadly STD known as “Vietnam Rose”. Her life forever altered, Chu Ling takes a job as a bar-girl at a local club in hopes of locating the scum who cursed her with their vile “kiss of death”. It is there that she meets Wong Ta (Lo Lieh, KING BOXER) the bar’s handsome handicapped owner. This being a Shaw Brothers presentation it should go without saying that any character with a disability, no matter how minor or graphic, is required to also be a master of kung-fu. Wong Ta is no exception to the rule and it isn’t long before Chu Ling is begging him to trainer her so that she may enact her bloody revenge. Aided by her roommate and fellow bar-girl Yang Fei Hung (Chen Ching), Chu Ling tracks down her assailants and one by one finds retribution at the end of a blade.

In the mid to late 1960s, Ho Meng-hua directed a quartet of comedies based around the classic Chinese novel Journey To The West, THE MONKEY GOES WEST, PRINCESS IRON FAN, THE CAVE OF SILKEN WEB (currently available from Image Entertainment) and THE LAND OF MANY PERFUMES. The films follow a Tang Priest on his quest to deliver Buddhist scriptures to China with the aid of several fantastical characters, most notably the Monkey King. The early 1970s saw Ho Meng-hua undertake several action pictures, including THE MASTER OF KUNG-FU and THE FLYING GUILLOTINE before placing his stamp on the horror genre with such memorable outings as BLACK MAGIC (also currently available from Image Entertainment), its sequel BLACK MAGIC 2 and THE OILY MANIAC. KISS OF DEATH was shot in between these last two periods, maintaining the violence and action of the Chopsocky films but upping the ante with liberal dose of nudity, sleazy nudity at that. As the seventies progressed the trend in Hong Kong cinema took a decidedly male dominated leaning, resulting in increases in both blood and flesh.

Fans of Quentin Tarantino's KILL BILL will undoubtedly see numerous similarities with KISS OF DEATH, both in its use of repetitive visual cues and with the structure in which Chu Ling's enacts her revenge. An obvious fan, Tarantino released Ho Meng-hua's THE MIGHTY PEKING MAN through his Rolling Thunder label (via Miramax/Buena Vista) in 2000. The picture's night scenes, which make up for a majority of the film, are often saturated with multiple neon colors that pepper the action in a colorful seediness. Clashing rays of neon purples and yellows are broken only by quick and dramatic flashbacks of Chu Ling's rooftop attack, which are tinted a dark red, reinforcing both the anger of her assault and the pain that it has left her with. The film's addictive rock soundtrack is surprisingly upbeat for most of the running time and taken on its own, is quite catchy and just one of many elements that make KISS OF DEATH immensely enjoyable. I was particularly impressed by the way in which the numerous retellings of Chu Ling’s attack were handled. The film essentially opens with a rape scene, letting the viewer know from the very beginning that what is about to follow is going to be little else than a violent tale of retribution. Chu Ling relives her ordeal twice throughout the picture, once to Wong Ta and again to one of her rapists, a lanky pornographer named Pimp (Shiu Hung Hui). Each time Chu Ling’s words are drowned out by ambient noise, first a passing train and latter by the rocking tunes of Pimp's party. The result leaves the viewer to recall the film's opening attack for themselves and question “What is she saying?”

KISS OF DEATH was one of Chen Ping’s first films for Shaw Brothers and would lead to a prosperous carrier with the studio with staring roles in THE SINFUL ADULTRESS, TWO CON MEN and THE SEXY KILLER. Often referring to herself only as “The Lady from the roof” to her attackers, Chen Ping jumps back and forth from the grief-stricken victim to a steely eyed killer effortlessly. While her demeanor changes once she’s zeroed in on her prey, it is her eyes that present the most noticeably change, as if they are dilating in anticipation of a rush of adrenaline and blood. Likewise, Shaw Brothers stalwart Lo Lieh provides another notable performance as Chu Ling’s mentor and lovelorn suitor. Lo Lieh starred in over 70 Shaw Brothers pictures, many of which are considered milestones in Kung-Fu cinema, including KING BOXER (THE FIVE FINGERS OF DEATH) and THE 36th CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN.

Image Entertainment presents KISS OF DEATH in a 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratio, enhanced for 16:9 televisions. The print source is remarkably clean with no noticeable dirt or debris. Colors are appropriate, with the numerous neon colored night scenes rich with detail. Audio is presented in both the original Mandarin dialogue and English Dub, with the preferred Mandarin dialogue track fairing better and clearer. Subtitles are available in both English and Spanish, and while I don’t read Spanish I can attest that the English track is legible and easy to follow. A theatrical trailer is provided alongside over a dozen other Shaw Brothers trailers, including ones for HAVE SWORD, WILL TRAVEL, THE SUPER INFRAMAN and HUMAN LANTERNS. All such previews are however not originals and represent Celestial Pictures' re-cut, re-release trailers. If you every wondered what I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE would be like with Hong Kong action coordinator, may I suggest KISS OF DEATH, it just might be the antidote for what ails ya. (Jason McElreath)