The White Butterfly Killer (HK 1973)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 8/9/20
Cast: Hsu Feng

"You get some rest, and tomorrow you'll see my enemy die in my hands."

A young girl named Miss Pao (Hsu Feng) is gang raped, but manages to escape her assailants with a young man's help. Since then, she's been running the luxurious White Butterfly Inn on Leopard Mountain, while plotting her revenge. As fate would have it, six years later the rapists just happen to be passing through town and are looking for a place to spend the night. Miss Pao and her all-female staff make plans to kill every one of them, which involves lots of lying, scheming, and bait-and-switch tactics. While vengeance is ultimately served, it also extracts a heavy toll.

This is an interesting variation on the rape-and-revenge formula that plays out more like a thriller or horror movie than a kung fu actioner. Hsu Feng is perfect for the role and gets a lot of screen time, which is great. Her fierce beauty is intoxicating and her unwavering resolve is unnerving. Unfortunately, her fight scenes aren't very convincing, but her intensity is on the mark and she's a lot of fun to watch. The same goes for her sisters-in-arms. Their kicks look great, but their hand techniques tend to lack power and finesse. What makes the film so great is how devious and conniving Miss Pao is, which Hsu Feng captures flawlessly with stone-faced stoicism. She's actually presented like an evil serial killer, accompanied by tense and spooky music when she takes action, much like a spider or snake getting ready to strike. Anger and hatred have made her all-powerful, giving her almost supernatural strength and skill. Only once does she let her guard down, which has dire consequences. Typical for the genre, the moral lesson is "those who kill are bound to be killed," which leads to a downbeat ending.

The film looks great and the locations are fantastic. I wish I had a better copy of the film, since it was cropped to full-screen and obviously mastered from video tape. The standard English dubbing is serviceable, but the actress who voices Hsu Feng does a surprisingly good job and hits all of the right emotional notes. I'd still rather see a subtitled version, though. Another oddity is that the first ten minutes seem completely random and introduce a plot thread that is immediately dropped. It's almost as if the beginning of the film was shot for another movie that happened to be using the same location. So, while the pacing is a bit slow and it probably won't satisfy kung fu enthusiasts, I found the revenge angle to be extremely enjoyable, and the intensely brooding Hsu Feng is wonderful throughout.