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ANGEL WITH THE IRON FISTS - below-par Shaw Bros. Bond rip-off
ANGEL WITH THE IRON FISTS (1966) has all the right elements to make a good Hong Kong female-centered James Bond-style secret agent thriller, but it's never as entertaining as it should be. There are beautiful women, sexy costumes, car chases, martial arts fights, spacious villain headquarters, hidden gadgets and all sorts of spy film trappings. But the direction (by Lo Wei) is so restrained that nothing ever jells. Everything is too polite and the pace is too slow. It's as if the Shaw Bros. studio had spent all this money on lavish sets and fashionable costumes and then decided it didn't want to get them dirty, so they didn't allow the actors to play rough. There are quite a few fight scenes in places like nightclubs, hotel rooms, a beauty salon and the villain's HQ, but they're so ineptly done and the lead actors so unconvincing as action stars, that one simply wants to pop this DVD out and put in a kung fu movie.
The plot involves a high-tech gang of thieves, a legit jeweler (Tang Ching) caught up in their racket, and a female jewel buyer who's actually a police agent, but we don't really get a handle on what's happening until the one-hour mark, when Luo Na (aka Agent 009, played by Lily Ho) is assigned to infiltrate the Dark Angels gang and get the goods on them. The Dark Angels are housed in a massive underground complex and led by an attractive female boss who wears a white suit and gold high-heeled boots and demands complete loyalty. She has an army of female bodyguards in sexy outfits and gun belts. Agent 009 enters the lair armed with a purse full of gadgets including a bottle of perfume that doubles as a "tranquilizer." Much of the film clearly takes its cues from the James Bond series, which was up to number 4 by the time this film was produced, and draws on all four for inspiration (DR. NO, FROM Russia WITH LOVE, GOLDFINGER, and THUNDERBALL), going so far as to recreate certain scenes quite closely. There are even some actual James Bond music cues sprinkled throughout the awkward soundtrack.
The lead actress, Lily Ho, is quite beautiful and parades a steady stream of tasteful, eye-catching fashions. She plays a sophisticated woman of the world and models a swimsuit in one scene and has mild love scenes with leading man Tang Ching, who was 42 at the time. None of this would seem remarkable but for the fact that Lily Ho's birth year, according to the biographical notes provided on the DVD, was 1952, making her barely 14 at the time of production! (See Addendum below.)
It's interesting to see so many Shaw Bros. actors normally associated with period kung fu films wearing modern dress and playing non-kung fu roles. Ku Feng, normally one of the studio's most formidable villains, even gets punched out by young Lily at one point. Also on hand are Han Ying Chieh, Fan Mei-Sheng, Cheng Kang Yeh, Wu Ma and Cheng Lei.
The film is nice to look at, with its gaudy set design and polished cinematography, both in- and out-of-doors, but it needed more of an exploitation edge. Everything should have been a little faster, rougher, sexier and over the top. As it stands, it's an interesting little curio, but it doesn't give Hong Kong Bond imitations a good name.
ADDENDUM (October 6, 2007) Re: Lily Ho's age. Later Shaw Bros. DVDs featuring Lily Ho as the star have updated the birth year given in Lily's biographical info to 1946, which sounds more plausible, so she would have been 19 or 20 when this film was made, not 14(!).
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