THE VENGEFUL BEAUTY (1978) Region B Blu-ray
Director: Meng Hua Ho
88 Films

The Bloody Hibiscus takes on the Flying Guillotines on 88 Films' Blu-ray of THE VENGEFUL BEAUTY.

Qing Dynasty emperor Yong Zheng (Hung Wei, THE 36TH CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN) secured support of his subjects by pretending to rule benevolently; however, behind the scenes, he uses secret his fleet of assassins known as the Flying Guillotines – so-named for their choice of weapon and preference to kill by decapitation – to target anyone who slanders the Imperial Court, including scholars and booksellers who disseminate literature along with their families. Before she became the wife of court officer Han (Sung-Ling Li), Quiyon (Ping Chen, LADY EXTERMINATOR) was a skilled fighter. When she witnesses the murder of a bookseller and his family, Quiyon ambushes the Flying Guillotines when they go after a proofreader, leaving hibiscus flowers with their bodies as a trademark. When two court officials are decapitated with flying guillotines, the emperor tasks Han with discovering the identity of the killer and quashing rumors that the Imperial Court ordered the killings. When Han captures one of the Flying Guillotines in the act, he utilizes torture to discover who is behind the killings. The emperor, in turn, orders Flying Guillotine chief Jin Kangfong (Lieh Lo, THE ONE-ARMED SWORDSMAN) to kill Han and his family before he discovers the truth. Anticipating danger, Han instructs pregnant Quiyon to take his mother and seek shelter with his uncle Tong should anything happen to him. While visiting the burial site of her former master, Quiyon meets fellow fighter and ex-lover Wang Jun (Hua Yueh, COME DRINK WITH ME) who has been wandering aimlessly for the last three years. Upon returning home, she discovers her husband and mother-in-law dead and a clue that leads her to Jin Kangfong. She makes an attempt on his life but must flee when she her exertion threatens her unborn child. Knowing that he will be executed if the emperor finds out that he did not silence all of Han's family, Yong sends his adopted children – eldest Ren Teng (Hui Huang Lin, FIVE DEADLY VENOMS), younger son Biao (Lung Wei Wang, HONG KONG GODFATHER), and daughter Shaozhi (Susan Shaw, BIG BAD SIS) – to finish the job with the promise of inheriting his property and name. Hiding as a dishwasher at a restaurant, Quiyon finds an ally in Ma Shen (Norman Chu, DUEL TO DEATH), a former Flying Guillotine who felt remorse and has been hunted by Jin since he quit the squad, when another attempt is made on her life. They are joined by Wang on the road to reach Han's uncle. Quiyon not only worries about her health and the baby but staying faithful to her husband's memory as old feelings are stirred up with Wang and new ones with Ma Shen. When his children fail to capture and kill Quiyon, Jin must carry out the deed himself when Quiyon is left at her most vulnerable in the house of Tong who may not be who he says he is.

Another pseudo side-entry in the Shaw Brothers' competing Flying Guillotine series after ONE ARMED SWORDSMAN's Yu Wang made MASTER OF THE FLYING GUILLOTINES for the competing Golden Harvest, THE VENGEFUL BEAUTY is actually a more entertaining entry than THE DRAGON MISSILE. It moves along at a fast enough clip with splashes of gore and some bare breasts so that sorting out the dense plot is less of a concern. While Quiyon and company make relatively short work of Jin Kangfong's disciples, the action set pieces are still quite memorable (although it seems like the Flying Guillotine is quite an unwieldy weapon in close contact fighting), particularly one set in an abandoned Buddhist temple, some early wire-fu in a bamboo forest, and the climax which has Quiyon fighting multiple iterations of Jin Kangfong. While many of the Shaw Brothers action films treated women, even women fighters, like set decoration, THE VENGEFUL BEAUTY may be the Shaw equivalent of a girl power film.

Apparently never dubbed into English and largely unseen in English-speaking countries by all but Asian cinema fanatics, THE VENGEFUL BEAUTY comes to 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.35:1 widescreen Blu-ray looking like one of the more recent Shaw remasters. It is colorful with better black levels than usual and does not appear to have been DNR'd to hell like some of the decade-old masters used for some of DVDs and a few of 88's own Asian Blu-ray line. Detail is occasionally flattened thanks to the original photography with earlier anamorphic lenses that distorted the center during wide angle panning shots which include some establishing shots and some coverage of the action scenes. The LPCM 2.0 mono Mandarin track is clean with sound effects and music having a bit more presence than the dialogue while the English subtitles sport a few awkward phrasing choices.

Extras include an interview with actor Hua Yueh (15:36) conducted by Frédéric Ambroisine in which he recalls getting involved in theater before landing the role of Monkey King in a series of films followed by a role in King Hu's COME DRINK WITH ME. He then discusses some of his Shaw Brothers titles and his "cheating" on the company by making films in Taiwan after marrying Ni Tien (CORPSE MANIA) and having a family to feed. The interview with Susan Shaw by Ambroisine (2:36) is considerably shorter, covering only her beginnings, her contract with Shaw, and how her appearance at the Cannes festival got her blackballed in Taiwan after the press referred to her as a "Chinese doll." The disc comes with a reversible sleeve featuring the original Hong Kong poster art on the inside and less striking art on the outside while the first pressing also includes a matte finish slipcase with the original poster art and a booklet by Calum Waddell who also suggests that the excess violence and nudity may have been included as distractions to keep the viewer from examining the plot too closely. (Eric Cotenas)