Lady Avenger (Taiwan 1981)

Rating: **
Alternate Title: Deadly Darling (edited US version)
Review Date: 10/19/19
Cast: Lu Hsiao Fen

"I've already given you 18 smiles today. I quit!"

A fashion model gets raped by a wealthy high society playboy, and she vows to see justice done. Not surprisingly, the accused pays off all of the right people and is declared innocent, while the victim shows up dead shortly after. A talented and successful news reporter named Wan-Ching (Lu Hsiao Fen) finds the entire affair intolerable and devotes herself to exposing the rigged charade, which gets her into a lot of trouble. She ends up getting gang raped outside of her apartment, and the only thing her loser fiancé is concerned about is what he's going to tell his friends. The shame and humiliation of marrying a soiled woman is too much to bear, so he dumps her and finds another girlfriend. With no help from the police and nowhere to turn to, the mental and emotional anguish finally forces Wan-Ching to take the law into her own hands and kill the bastards who violated her. She also gets a chance to take out the original rapist, but the film ends on a frustrating and unsatisfying note before he gets his due.

I recognized this film from a lobby card that a friend of mine had, and never realized just how rare it is. Digging deeper into the film's history, it was evidently part of the Taiwanese "black film" movement, which attempted to portray realistic violence as social commentary in an effort to raise awareness and combat increasing crime in the country. Much like the cautionary "educational movies" of 1950s that used sex and violence as a way to instill morality and Christian values in the American public, that message was lost and the films from that period are little more than grim and nasty exploitation flicks, full of violence, corruption, murder, and rape. While "Lady Avenger" has no explicit sex or nudity, the implications are there, and the emotional and psychological trauma resonates through the entire film.

It's a gritty and unpleasant film to watch, and the entire first half is a mean-spirited mess of misogyny, humiliation, and social injustice. However, the second half becomes much more interesting as Wan-Ching architects and executes her revenge. Her victims are dispatched in gruesome and inventive ways, which often defy logic or explanation. But they're entertaining and satisfying nonetheless. As expected, cultural standards don't allow vigilantes to be glamorized or go unpunished, which leads to a disappointing climax. Unfortunately, the copy of the film I saw was of such poor quality that it was barely watchable, but the film is also nearly impossible to find. The beautiful Lu Hsiao Fen is stunning throughout (as far as I could tell), and her intense gaze is petrifying. While I can't really recommend the film to anyone except die-hard "rape and revenge" fans, I do wish a higher quality version of the film existed, as there are a couple of set pieces that I enjoyed quite a bit from a female empowerment perspective.