Kiss of Death (Shaw Brothers)

This came out the same year as ENTER THE DRAGON, so the face-slashes might not be an homage

KISS OF DEATH is a 1973 Shaw Brothers production, but not a period martial arts movie like what they’re mostly known for. The director, Meng Hua Ho also did CAVE OF THE SILKEN WEB and OILY MANIAC. This one is a contemporary urban story about a lady (Chen Ping) who, one night walking home from her job at the textile factory, gets gang-raped by five street thugs, and now she wants revenge.

Don’t worry, it doesn’t get I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE graphic about it, but of course everything to do with the attack is very unpleasant. I was actually shocked by a scene where she is surprised by blood dripping down her legs. Most movies about sexual assault don’t bother depicting the ugly details of the physical aftermath.

But it turns out not to be what I thought it was.

In addition to the psychological trauma she gets an STD that she self diagnoses as “Vietnam Rose,” which she hears is fatal. She doesn’t get her medical advice from the most trustworthy sources – escorts at the night club where she starts working, a pervy unlicensed doctor her friend brings her to…

…who at least has enough medical knowledge to be horrified by what he sees – but she’s definitely experiencing pain, bloody discharges and other scary symptoms. She has something.

In a way this seems like a questionable story element. Yes, the belief that she’s dying gives her an additional excuse to go for broke in her revenge. It could’ve also been used as a ticking clock, she has to find them all before her health deteriorates, but that doesn’t come up much. The STD also could’ve been used as a method of execution for whichever rapists didn’t give it to her, but that doesn’t come up either. (In fact, I didn’t catch any reference to one of the rapists being sick, or this being a disease that can affect men at all.)

Mostly I suspect it was included as the revenge motive. They killed me, so I’ll kill them. In that sense we can say that I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE is a more enlightened movie in that the sexual assault was enough of a motive, she didn’t need to be dying.

On the other hand, the inclusion of the STD is important because it shows the tragedy of a society that puts shame on sexual problems. She won’t go to a real doctor even though she obviously knows she should. All she’ll do is stand outside looking at the sign in a montage and then get nervous and leave.

mp_kissofdeathShe’s much more self assured in the vengeance department, though. She finds out her boss at the night club, Brother Wong (Loh Lieh, 36TH CHAMBER OF SHAOLIN, SUPERCOP), though he walks with a cane, is a martial arts expert capable of beating up a bunch of dudes at once when they get out of line with the girls (which they keep fucking doing, this place is in serious need of a Dalton). So she tells him her story and convinces him to come out of retirement to train her to fight.

(Important note: she doesn’t tell him about the disease, only the attack, and he understands why she needs revenge. So that may negate my earlier points. But I still made them. Life is complicated.)

I like the editing of the movie, jumping quickly from the middle of a conversation to get to the good stuff. For example when a friend shows her a deck of razor-edged playing cards it doesn’t linger, it cuts immediately to a montage of her practicing throwing the cards into things, outfit changes signifying the passage of time as she grows from incompetent beginner to master markswoman at aiming for crotches.

Crotches are definitely her main target when she starts going after those sick motherfuckers. She finds them one-by-one, lures them in with dates, stabs them in the dick with a pair of long surgical scissors she tucks into her go-go boots. Before that she’ll fight them and of course she’s gunning for maximum ball damage.


It’s a testament to their scumminess that they don’t even remember who she is at first. They don’t recognize her. They figure out someone is stalking them and crossing them off a list, so they do some detective work. But when they find the way to her apartment they see her roommate, who has thrown on her fur coat to keep warm while running out to try to get her more medicine for her STD. (She shoulda kept track of that herself, but it’s good she has a nice friend.)

Now, you think there’s gonna be a case of mistaken identity here because of the clothing, but get this, when they see the roommate they recognize her as someone whose life they also ruined. So naturally they assume that she’s the one who’s trying to get revenge. Our girl has to narrow it down for them by identifying herself as “the lady on the roof.”

Well, at least they didn’t have to ask which roof. I’m relieved that that was enough information for them, honestly. These guys are terrible.


At the end she and Brother Wong get to use their moves against two remaining rapists and a bunch of fighters they call in for backup. She does alot of flipping and rolling kicks, hangs from a ceiling fan, gets knocked through tables, chases them like they chased her, drops down the outside of a stairway parkour-style to get ahead of them. So there’s an extended series of fights at the end, but overall it’s not as much of a fight movie as most productions of Sir Run Run Shaw.

But the modern setting does give it a certain visual advantage over other Shawscope epics. The ’70s night club sets and fashions are very colorful. I don’t mind that Shaw Brothers heroes usually are monks wearing rags, but it’s kinda cool to have one about a woman with a large collection of eye-catching floral print dresses and blouses.

Of the movies I’ve seen called KISS OF DEATH, my favorite is still the one where Nic Cage shows off in a strip club by benchpressing Hope Davis. And this is not one of the better Shaw Brothers movies I’ve seen either, but it’s a worthwhile curiosity. I always enjoy seeing a woman kill a bunch of rapists, and it’s interesting to see how this formula plays out in the context of a different culture and filmmaking tradition.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, April 16th, 2014 at 1:35 pm and is filed under Action, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

15 Responses to “Kiss of Death (Shaw Brothers)”

  1. Always up for a good rapevenge movie. I got Ferrara’s MS.45 aka ANGEL OF VENGEANCE recently on bluray, which I haven’t seen for ages, so I cant wait to unwrap that.

    Not sure about this one. “The ugly details of the aftermath”(of the rape) kinda repels me. That whole bodily discharge thing is a bit too much. I got no problem with blood and cartilage flying around after a chainsaws been in the room, but I’m totally grossed out by the personal nature of fluids leaving the body. I love Cronenberg, yet struggle with some of his early stuff like RABID and SHIVERS where the subtext is about disease transmission/invasion/or Body-Shock Horror as Paul rightly calls it. And I still haven’t made it all the way through his CRASH.

  2. It’s pleasing to know that Meng Hua Ho brought a certain demented sensibility to whatever genre he dabbled in. Of his films I’ve seen, I truly enjoyed his wuxia THE LADY HERMIT with Cheng Pei-Pei and THE FLYING GUILLOTINE with Chen Kuan Tai. But still, no discussion of Meng can be complete without mentioning MIGHTY PEKING MAN. I had great pleasure of seeing that one in a movie theater when Tarantino’s Rolling Thunder label re-released it back in 1999.

  3. The Original... Paul

    April 17th, 2014 at 2:49 am

    “Always up for a good rapevenge movie.”

    Am I the only one disturbed that there’s actually a word for that? Hell, it’s practically its own genre at this point.

    Good review Vern, but I think I’m gonna give this one a miss unfortunately. Definitely not my “thing”.

  4. Yeah I know Paul, I still feel kinda bad admitting to liking some of those movies. To clarify, its the REVENGE part that’s the attraction. To name a few – Death Wish 1 & 2, Savage Streets and MS.45, all for different reasons. For one, Bronson, two, Linda Blair and cheesy 80’s, and three, gutter auteur Abel Ferrara.

    And I just realised we quoted each other at the same time on different threads(me on Raid 2). Touche.

  5. i don’t think I would ever use the portmanteau “rapevenge” in a casual conversation, but it is rather clever. If I had a “go-to” movie from that subgenre, it would have to be the western HANNIE CAULDER. It has some weird tonal problems around its three villains played by Ernest Borgnine, Strother Martin, and Jack Elam, but the pluses of Raquel Welch, Robert Culp, Christopher Lee, the Spanish locations, and Ken Thorne score make up for that.

  6. The rape-revenge plot is tricky. I suppose I prefer it if the woman is the agent of revenge, although there are films I like where the boyfriend/husband is the protagonist and he gets to execute his vengeance. An example where it wasn’t well executed is probably in Kill Bill Vol. 1. I obviously really love that film because it does so many wonderful things. But I felt like having The Bride raped while she was in a coma was unnecessary, since the object of her revenge was Bill. The random orderly seemed superfluous. It felt like Tarantino was just checking off elements he wanted to include from 70s revenge cinema, whether or not it worked for the characters or plot. This is one of the reasons why I think Vol. 2 is the superior film.

  7. I think the rape element in KILL BILL was partially there as a way to tell the audience that The Bride was barren now because of her injuries, thus making her thirst for revenge even more intense. This info could have been delivered another way, but that wouldn’t have allowed her to start murdering motherfuckers seconds after awakening from a coma, which is pretty badass. Even Mason Storm didn’t do that.

  8. Jareth Cutestory

    April 17th, 2014 at 7:07 am

    Uma emerging from a coma and going instantly into slaughter mode also tells us a lot about her character and her training. To Tarantino’s credit, his use of humour (and that utterly gross jar of lubricant) steers the viewer away from the kind of collusion with the pornographic gaze that was standard in stuff like FOXY BROWN. Most exploitation films feel utterly lurid in comparison.

  9. The use of rape as a reason for revenge in the 70’s and 80’s were seldom justified and I don’t miss it at all. But as Al T said, it worked in HANNIE CAULDER because it happened to the female lead and not an angry husband or lover. The absolute worst case is the unrated version of DEATH WISH 2, where Michael Winner lets the scene with the maid go on for ever without any purpose. It’s said that Tarantino based KILL BILL on LADY SNOWBLOOD and THRILLER – A CRUEL PICTURE, which explains why he HAD to have a rape scene in there somewhere. But it certainly wasn’t nescessary.

  10. I haven’t seen this one, so I can’t say for sure, but the descriptions give me the uncomfortable feeling that she was given a fatal STD as a way of saying she was now damaged goods from being raped. It feels like that terrible philosophy of it being better to die than suffer the dishonor of sexual assault. Again, I haven’t seen the movie, so I can’t form an educated opinion, but I don’t like the vibe of it.

  11. I don’t know, I think you guys are kinda being babies. It’s a shitty fucking thing about this horrible world of ours, but rapes happen. A lot. They happen way more often than murders, yet we’ll watch a thousand murders a year and then start complaining about the one rape we have to sit through. I know it’s uncomfortable, but so is pretending that this horrific crime isn’t something that a whole shitload of people can’t relate to and wouldn’t mind seeing some savage justice applied to. There are evil rapists out there and they need to be punished. Isn’t that what badass cinema is all about: simple, violent solutions to complex social issues? Rape is fucked up and awful and inexcusable, but it’s real and it’s sadly all too common. It can be handled well and it can be handled badly, but it’s as viable a motive for a revenge movie as any.

  12. I’ve been watching a lot of martial arts, especially Shaw Bros, movies over the last year or so and by weird coincidence just saw this a few weeks ago. Ho Meng-Hua made some pretty awesome movies in his time (especially Lady Hermit, which has an action scene I’m pretty sure directly inspired the bridge scene in TEMPLE OF DOOM) but was way inconsistent and this one is as close to garbage as anything I’ve seen in the Shaw canon.

  13. “Tarantino steers the viewer away from the pornographic gaze.”(paraphrased)

    Good comment Jareth.

    On a similar vein, I think Tarantino and Cronenberg, for all the criticism they cop for their representation of issues on sex, racism, revenge etc, are great moralists. The fact that I am utterly disturbed by a lot of Cronenbergs Body-Shock movies means he has succeeded in making a point. He has “steered me away” from carnality, if you will, by transmitting haha a certain degree of repulsion, or fear, of disease. I would call Cronenberg and Anti-Porn or Anti-Promiscuity Director.

    And I’m no prude. I saw my first skin flick in my early teens. But as I’ve gotten older, and gone through some life stuff, my feelings have changed and I don’t watch them anymore.

  14. Majestyk, I’m not uncomfortable about the act being shown on film per se. As you say it’s a thing that happens every day in real life. Statistics show that 98 prosent of the time the attack comes from a husband, boyfriend or someone the victim knows, so that means movies always show the remaining 2 prosent, but that’s another debate. What I’m reacting to, and really don’t miss, are the directors who put rape scenes in their movies for titillation.

  15. Jareth Cutestory

    April 20th, 2014 at 8:38 am

    My girlfriend told me that she’d rather see a film deal with the actual act of rape rather than depict the threat of rape; she said she’s more insulted by the value placed on preserving the female character’s “virtue” in the latter scenario. Not to mention, the character that usually repels the threat of rape in these films is always male, underscoring the female character’s helplessness and restoring the patriarchal order. Apparently this ritual is played out every week on shows like Law & Order.

    Darren: This isn’t going to counteract Majestyk’s opinion of my squeamishness, but, as I get older, if I watch porn at all, which isn’t often, it’s almost always something softcore. Not because I’m such a sensitive motherfucker, but because I find the current dominant aesthetic in porn to be so ugly and white trash. Everyone is waving their genitals around and barking commands like they’re hyping a WWF grudge match. Without the volume, modern porn resembles an autopsy, stylistically speaking. At least with softcore they pay attention to the lighting and the soundtrack.

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