|Lady Black Cat (1966)
Lady Black Cat Strikes Again
Director: Cheung Wai-Gwong
Cast: Connie Chan, Wu Fung, Sek Kin
Winson; Format: VCD, DVD (Region 0)
The great thing about Connie Chan’s action movies is that you don’t need to understand the dialogue or comprehend every little twist and turn of the plot to enjoy them. In fact, more often than not, the story is just a wire hanger on which to drape the real attractions. Case in point: Lady Black Cat and its sequel. Both movies involve the internal power struggles of criminal organizations, the innocent people who get swept up in the conflict, and a hero who must set things right. And both films feature a “McGuffin”—that inherently meaningless plot device that sets everything in motion and keeps the characters busy for the next hour and a half. In Lady Black Cat it’s a priceless jewel; in Lady Black Cat Strikes Again it’s an incriminating tape recording. However, the real reason for watching these movies is not to find what happens to the “McGuffin”, but to see the stars of the show do what they do best.
Both Lady Black Cat films feature Connie Chan, Wu Fung, and Sek Kin as the main stars. And if you need more proof that the particulars of the story don’t really matter, the characters that they play in the first film do not return in the second film, despite what you would expect from a sequel. Even the Lady Black Cat character appears to be a different incarnation the second time around. What’s important is that Connie Chan plays the good guy, Sek Kin plays the bad guy, and Wu Fung plays the foil for our heroine.
A veteran actor who had already made a whopping 178 films since his debut in the 1953 comedy Men’s Hearts, Wu Fung possesses an easy-going charm and effortless sense of humor that makes him a good match for Chan (who also has quite a knack for comedy). In Lady Black Cat he plays a bumbling private investigator who is clueless to the real identity of his seemingly timid secretary. This, of course, allows for many funny moments, the best of which occurs when Chan tells a very tall tale about how he fought and defeated Lady Black Cat. Wu eats it right up! Even without translation, you can’t help laughing at the two of them. Lady Black Cat Strikes Again is darker and edgier than the first film, so Wu doesn’t get the chance to flex his comedic muscles the second time around (except briefly during the “chicken” song and the final scene when he realizes that Chan is Lady Black Cat). However, consummate actor that he is, he plays straight man just as well as comic foil. For further evidence of Wu Fung’s versatility, check out his performance with Chan in the excellent tear-jerker Opposite Love (1968).
No Connie Chan action film would be complete without Sek Kin as the bad guy. Sek never disappoints, and the Lady Black Cat movies are no exception. In fact, he is especially nefarious, thanks to his attempt to rape a damsel-in-distress in each film. His disfigured-face disguise in Lady Black Cat Strikes Again is horrific enough to give nightmares to virtuous young women everywhere! Thank goodness that the attempted rape in the first film ends comically when Chan turns out the lights and substitutes herself as the victim. One woman is as good as another to “Bad Guy Kin”, but boy is he in for a surprise!
It’s always a joy to watch Chan and Sek together. They had a chemistry that equals, in my mind, the legendary on-screen romance between Chan and Lui Kei. Both relationships were intimate, but one was made of declarations of love and attempted kisses, while the other was made of punching and kicking. What’s certain is that the sparks fly in all directions whenever Sek and Chan are on screen together. As Sek once said in an interview, he loved working with Chan because she was strong and could take a punch!
The excitement of Chan and Sek’s martial trysts was also due in no small part to Hong Kong cinema’s top action choreographers. Lady Black Cat was choreographed by Kwan Ching-Leung, who was a student of Master Yu Jim Yuen (father of martial-arts queen Yu So Chow and teacher of Jackie Chan). Kwan is known mostly for his work in the blockbuster wuxia epics that director Chan Lit-Ban made for the Sin-Hok Kong-Luen Company. His intricate choreography, often involving upwards of 50 people, achieved a new level of realism and jump-started the new-style martial arts cinema of the 60s. Prior to Lady Black Cat, he provided the moves for Connie Chan in such classics as The Golden Hairpin (1963-64) and The Six-Fingered Lord of the Lute (1965).
Lau Kar-Leung and Tong Kai were the team responsible for the action in Lady Black Cat Strikes Again. While both men are often acknowledged for revolutionizing martial arts choreography during their collaboration with director Chang Cheh, the prolific and innovative body of work that they produced in the Cantonese film industry tends to be overlooked. This is unfortunate, because I believe that the action films they made from 1966-67 featuring Connie Chan, Josephine Siao, and Suet Nei were in fact the creative playground that nurtured their innovations. These low-budget quickies provide early evidence of their transformation from action choreographers into action directors. Lau and Tong were not only experimenting with new ways of staging action but also new ways of filming (and editing) action, and the results, though crude by today’s standards, are often surprising.
One of the ways that these choreographers freed action from the stage-bound conventions of Chinese opera was by setting it in unusual spaces. For example, the final battle between Connie Chan and Sek Kin in Lady Black Cat Strikes Again takes place in a small room with a sliding trap floor covering a pit of poisonous snakes. Holding on to chains hanging from the ceiling, they grapple with each other before lifting themselves up to a narrow beam to continue the fight. Their struggle in the cramped space between the beam and the ceiling is a predecessor to Lau Kar-Leung and Jackie Chan’s famous fight scene beneath the train in Drunken Master II (1994). Then there’s the finale of Lady Black Cat, which takes place on a rope strung between the masts of two fishing junks, set against the stunning backdrop of a habor, mountainous shoreline, and cloud-filled sky. Scenes like these were groundbreaking for their time.
Of course the main attraction of the Lady Black Cat films is none other than Connie Chan. Despite having made 250 movies in her short career, Chan never really had a chance to develop as a serious actress. At her peak, she was making more than thirty films a year. The Cantonese film industry was providing weekly entertainment at a time before most Hong Kongers had access to free television. It had to produce films cheaply and quickly. Nevertheless, these humble films achieved what they set out to do: entertain audiences. In the case of Chan’s films, this involved a little bit of drama, comedy, romance, and action, along with a song or two.
But what was the secret ingredient that made this recipe so successful? Watching the Lady Black Cat films, I was struck by the way that Chan changes identities as quickly and easily as she changes outfits. Throughout the course of Lady Black Cat she adopts a range of personas: modern office lady, virtuous outlaw, sixties rebel, and traditonal amah—she even cross-dresses as a man (as Chan is wont to do in her movies). And not once does anyone see through her guise! The effect is a feeling of incredible power and freedom, which must have been exciting and inspirational to the young girls and women who made up the bulk of her fans. The fact that a grown man like myself (who doesn’t even speak Cantonese) can giddily enjoy these movies forty years later is a testament to the enduring talent and charm of Hong Kong cinema’s “Movie-Fan Princess”.
by Dave Wells
Connie Chan is... Lady Black Cat.
Everyone wants the “McGuffin”.
Wu Fung’s ego gets pumped by Connie’s tall tale about how he defeated Lady Black Cat.
Wu Fung finally figures out that Lady Black Cat is none other than...
Whenever Sek Kin and Connie Chan meet onscreen, sparks fly in every direction.
The intimate relationship of Sek Kin and Connie Chan.
Choreographers Lau Kar-Leung and Tong Kai take the action to a higher level...
... while choreographer Kwan Ching-Leung has an eye for the spectacular.
Whether playing a man...
... or a woman, Connie Chan always charms and inspires!