Lady Black Cat
aka Haak Ye Maau aka 女賊黑野貓
Directed by Cheung Wai-Gwong
One genre from older Chinese films which is barely known today despite how awesome some of the films are is the Jane Bond genre, which are films with tough female leads who are either spies or thieves or super-heroines who beat the tar out of evil dudes. Women as central figures has a long history in Chinese opera/film, and some of the earliest surviving Chinese films have female fighters as leads. The popularity of James Bond translated to female leads wearing slinky outfits, disguises, and beating up lots of dudes. There was a whole ton of these films produced in the 1960’s, many starring Connie Chan Po-Chu and/or Josephine Siao Fong-Fong. Sadly, many are lost today.
The Jane Bond films were proceeded by films based on the Oriole, the Heroine (Wong Ang) stories, a series of books which were first shown on film in the 1950s. Even those came from the Nuxia (swordswoman) genre, which dates back to at least 1928’s The Burning of Red Lotus Temple, the first martial arts blockbuster and which spawned 18 films total in the series. Here is some more information.
There is also an article I wrote on Jane Bond films here, which references several other good articles written on the subject. The most famous of the Jane Bond films is probably the Black Rose films (also starring Connie Chan Po-Chu), which produced a complicated string of pseudo sequels after the one official sequel, which eventually lead to the Protege de la Rose Noire film. Michele Yeoh’s Silver Hawk is also a modern update of the old source stories. The two classic Black Rose films are only available on old VHS tapes, thus we don’t have them.
We do have this old film that made it to DVD, thanks to Chinatown DVD shops and the cheap prices there-in. Lady Black Cat is a heist film starring a thief who is a girl dressed as a cat who steals from the evil rich guy and beats up his goons single-handedly. It has an unrelated sequel, Lady Black Cat Strikes Back, starring essentially the same cast with the same plot (except instead of a diamond being stolen it is a role of microtape.) Director Cheung Wai-Gwong is also credited as Jiang Weiguang depending on your translation methods, he directed the sequel and many many other films from the mid-1940’s until the 1970s. He was also a prolific writer for films during that period.
The internet is helping shed light on this forgotten classic films. Good links in addition to the ones above include Connie Chan – Movie Fan Princess, The Lucha Diaries, Teleport City, Electric Shadows, SoftFilm Blog, Illuminated Lantern, and probably many more unsung sites that I don’t have links to at the moment. There is not much written about this genre, it has much to discover and reviews are much needed. Do your duty and locate films today, write up reviews tomorrow, and sign up for the Mobile Infantry. Service guarantees citizenship!
There are no subtitles on the DVD, wife translated some of the names and some of the plot, so I have some of the character’s names (but not the main two) My Cantonese is sub-elementary school, but I am slowly but surely catching on to a bit. At TarsTarkas.NET, we don’t need no stinking subtitles, but will accept help from out lovely wife!
The opening sequence is the credits set to the Lady Black Cat song (Haak Ye Maau —> Black Wild Cat) and the scenes are Lady Black Cat beating up lots of random dudes. The opening sequence is pretty exciting, except not of those sequences are in the real film, they are just there to add flavor. The flavor of Lady Black Cat being totally awesome.
The movie starts much later, with the Detective working on a case to find some missing jewels stolen by Lady Black Cat. As his secretary, Girl Friday, is Lady Black Cat, she knows he has no clue where they are. The Detective says he will find the missing jewels because he will be ruined otherwise. At this point Girl Friday has sympathy on him, and leaves the jewels in the office hung on the wall with a note from Lady Black Cat.
Meanwhile, Ah Cheung brings his daughter Lam Suk-Ying and her Boyfriend to meet Tong Long, who Ah Cheung is employed for. Tong Long dismisses the Boyfriend and tries to hit on Lam Suk-Ying, who is less than interested in Tong Long. I think at this point the couple is looking for work to help pay for the sick mom’s medical bills, but Tong Long is too busy looking for moist holes to hump.
The Detective and Girl Friday come by to explain how they found the missing jewels (which belonged to Long Tong, as he is a respected businessman despite being pure evil. Think Mr. Burns) and the Detective makes up a story embellished by Girl Friday, who is a better weaver of lies than him. Tong Long is impressed and hires the Detective to guard the new giant diamond that he is getting in. The diamond is retrieved and put in a safe, but there is a note waiting for them from Lady Black Cat saying she will steal the diamond.
So now everyone has to work overtime that night guarding the safe. Maybe Girl Friday just needed a few overtime dollars to supplement her theft income. The guarding works fine until gas enters the room and knocks everyone out. Lady Black Cat creeps in, opens the safe, grabs a jewel that turns out to be fake, and then runs off. Ah Cheung is then framed for the robbery by Tong Long, who wasn’t knocked out and was just faking it, as he put the poison gas in. This film is complicated. Why is he doing this? I don’t know, maybe for insurance? Or he is just evil and does that stuff for a living.
Lam Suk-Ying and her Boyfriend are given food by Lady Black Cat (disguised as a street boy, back when this happened all the time in films because they carried on the tradition from theater that the entire world was too stupid to notice when a girl dresses up as a boy and thinks she really is a boy. Both Eastern and Western plays do this junk.) Lady Black Cat also leaves a note saying she will take the jewel to avenge their father Ah Cheung.
Some thugs of Tong Long show up to cause trouble, and Girl Friday Incognito returns as Lady Black Cat to save the couple, fight the tons of thugs, and not wonder at all why it has suddenly switched from nighttime to noon. This miracle second sunrise allows the garden they are now fighting in to be illuminated, and Lady Black Cat leaps to the roof of a gazebo using her super black cat leaping skills. She fights many foes, and all of them just decide to give up because they can’t beat her. What a bunch of quitters!
There is a party at Tong Long’s, and Detective is putting the moves on Tong Long’s girl Lisa. Tong Long is not too happy, but that doesn’t stop him from putting the moves on Lam Suk-Ying, who for some reason is at a party thrown by the guy who framed her father for theft. No wonder Tong Long is so evil, no one seems to care at all! Tong Long can do whatever he wants with no consequence. Lady Black Cat is the only one fighting for freedom of oppression, every one in the film just lets Tong Long be evil. During the bash, Lady Black Cat is creeping around, and steals the real diamond. There is confusion, because there are two Lady Black Cats in the building! (One is an impostor!) They foot chase after the one who took the diamond, and Girl Friday’s mom manages to block the pursuers for a few seconds. It is not enough, as they see Lady Black Cat and Tong Long throws a knife into her back. Lady Black Cat struggles, grabs on to Detective, spits the diamond into Detective’s coat pocket (which Detective doesn’t notice for some reason) and dies. Lady Black Cat is dead? No, it was the impostor, who was Ah Cheung, who dressed up as Lady Black Cat to steal the diamond he was accused of stealing! This is like Dr. Richard Kimball finally finding the One-Armed Man, getting married to a new wife, and then killing her.
One of Tong Long’s goons named Chao Fu-sing decides to go against him because his boss is being outwitted by a girl. Lisa agrees to go out with Detective on a date, but it is all a ploy to see if the Detective has the diamond. On the date, the Detective’s car has problems, and instead of using it as an excuse to put the moves on her, he instead pops the hood to check out the engine. He still hasn’t noticed the giant diamond in his coat pocket, and doesn’t notice the giant diamond fall from his coat into the engine of his car, where the giant diamond is somehow safe and secure. I could set Detective on fire and he wouldn’t notice for three weeks. Detective takes Lisa back to his place, where she pretends to have stomach problems so she can search his house. Makes sense. Girl Friday comes in his house and interrupts, and soon hidden goons burst out of everywhere and attack Detective and Girl Friday. Girl Friday pretends to be scared, but secretly helps Detective when he isn’t looking and makes it look like he did all the work.
Girl Friday has a new plan, she will go to Tong Long’s house with a whole band, dressed up as a 1960’s band performer, and want money as a loan from Tong Long. In exchange, they play a Chinese version of “Woolly Bully” which is pretty goofy. The choreography is 1960’s and odd, and a little off. The performance impresses Tong Long enough he lends her a bunch of money, which she gives to the band, who then leave and are never seen again. We don’t know where they came from, or anything. Girl Friday sticks around, because Tong Long is going to try to sleaze his way all over her, except this is interrupted by two masked people barging in with swords. Tong Long begs for his life until some of his goons show up and they capture the pair, who turn out to be the couple from earlier. The husband is taken away for torture and Lam Suk-Ying is taken to Tong Long’s room for rape.
So let me get this straight: Tong Long is going to rape Lam Suk-Ying, then go from that to seduce Girl Friday disguised as a singer, who will be waiting downstairs peacefully while Lam Suk-Ying screams at the top of her lungs. Right. Tong Long is comically evil. All he needs is a top hat and to be tying women to railroad tracks. This plan doesn’t get to manifest itself, because they get a phone call from Chao Fu-sing announcing he has captured Lisa, and Tong Long sends his men to go get her. Then Tong Long heads back upstairs to rape Lam Suk-Ying. One track mind, this guy. The train’s stop at Rapetown is foiled as Girl Friday saves the day as Lady Black Cat, even though she isn’t in costume (the power of the dark.) Lam Suk-Ying and her hubby are saved.
On the other side of town, Tong Long’s goons fight Chao Fu-sing’s goons in a giant gangfight, while Girl Friday is dressed up as a boy again, and gets the diamond from Detective’s car and lures all the fighting goons onto two boats that are tied together. They fight on the boats, fight on ropes above the boats, and the goons all get bested by Lady Black Cat. She tosses the diamond in the sea and all the goons continue to fight each other. But then…suddenly they are all unconscious, as they have all knocked each other out! Right. Well, what a way to deus ex machina yourself a resolution. It turns out that Lady Black Cat tossed the fake diamond into the sea, the real diamond is safe and sound.
In the end, the Detective gets all the fame. Fame for what, I don’t know. Unless Tong Long was proved guilty of something or Lam Sik-Yung testifies against him, there isn’t really anything bad that will happen to him from getting into a brawl. Maybe the big diamond was stolen or something. I don’t know. There seemed to be no repercussions to the murder Tong Long did, the resolution here doesn’t make any sense. Just pretend Tong Long is in jail forever because he is evil and that’s what happens, unlike real life. The final scene is Girl Friday revealing to a shocked Detective that she is Lady Black Cat.
Lady Black Cat will return in Lady Black Cat Strikes Again, if I can locate a copy of the film!
Rated 7/10 (The note, The Credits Cat, This ain’t for firecrackers!, diamond fish, how would anyone ever think this is a boy?, He’s dead Jim!, Black Cat in the crow’s nest!)