The Dark Heroine Muk Lan-Fa (Review)
The Dark Heroine Muk Lan-Fa
aka The Dark Heroine Mu Lanhua aka 女黑俠木蘭花
Directed by Law Chi
Written by Lau Ling-Fung
The Dark Heroine Muk Lan-fa is a pulp heroine who appeared in a series of novels by Ni Kuang and three films in the 1960s. The Dark Heroine films are examples of the Jane Bond genre, a type of film we are big fans of here at TarsTarkas.NET. For our newer readers, the Jane Bond films were a type of film that appeared in 1966 until around 1969 which were heavily influenced by James Bond, and featured female crimefighters or criminal heroes who take down gangs and international conspiracies while wearing hip clothes and always
How much is cribbed from the Black Rose films? A lot. Of course, even those aren’t original, the female crimefigher motif is common in Hong Kong and Chinese film, dating back even before film to Cantonese Opera, having many instances in literature, and continuing to the girls with guns films in modern cinema. The Jane Bond trappings were just the latest iteration. As for the Dark Heroine herself, Muk Lan-Fa and her sister Muk San-Jau team up to fight evil gangs and rob from the evil. Muk Lan-Fa’s name is derived from that of Hua Mulan, and she is the star of the series, hence her name in the titles.
Ni Kuang (倪匡 aka Ngai Hong aka I Kuang aka Yi Kuang) has written literally hundreds of films and novels that films were based on, if you are someone reading this site than you’re more familiar with his work than you probably realize. Notable characters created by Ni Kuang include Chen Zhen (from Fist of Fury), Wai See-lei (Wisely), Yuen Tsang-hop (Dr. Yuen) and the One-Armed Swordsman (with Chang Cheh). I believe there are 60 Dark Heroine books in the complete series. Here is a gallery of some of the awesome pulp covers the books used to have. But they were later reprinted at some point with less spectacular covers, and you can order them on your Chinese eReaders if you read Chinese and want to Google that info yourself.
Later the characters were used for a TV series in the 1980s on TVB Limited starring Angie Chiu and Sharen Yeung. The sisters were given a background of ninja training, though I am not sure if that is the official story for their martial arts or was invented for the series. Hello opening credits! The Dark Heroine Muk Laf-fa later inspired The Heroic Trio films.
Director Law Chi was active in the 60s and 70s. He helmed all three Dark Heroine flicks, along with a few other spy/Jane Bond type films (Lady With a Cat’s Eyes (1967) and The Big Chase (1966)) and some wuxia flicks. His output dropped by the beginning of the 1980s, though he did manage to direct Haunted House Elf somehow. Writer Lau Ling-Fung didn’t seem to have much of a career outside of these three Dark Heroine films, either. Action directors Liu Chia-Liang and Tong Gai would go on to earn acclaim at Shaw, and Tong Gai even scored Suet Nei’s hand in marriage.
Things get pretty confusing at times, as the plot will zigzag all over before it reaches the logical next step. And as a bonus, these lovely vcds come equipped with no subtitles. But at TarsTarkas.NET, we don’t need no stinking subtitles!
The plot to get some sort of weapon, and there is espionage and spy rings involved. The spy rings are run so terribly that random people can just wander into the meetings and become embroiled in the world of secret light weapons and boat gunbattles. And one last thing before we start, for the transitions between scenes, instead of starwipes, this film has explosionwipes! That’s brilliantly awesometacular!
We open with a crime in progress, the Dark Heroine breaking into a place. She’s beaten, as there is already a masked male thief inside! After a brief skirmish, Muk Lan-Fa manages to still rob the place and escape in her car. The male thief follows, but as the Dark Heroine has a James Bond gadget car (complete with smoke and oil on the road), she evades both her pursuer and the police.
Of course the good citizen that owns the place that was robbed is Shek Kin’s Inspector Chan. Shek Kin always plays upstanding guys, it’s morally outrageous! I’m kidding, he’s totally evil! Another dirty cop is a bald goon with a scar on his head who is also planning something awful.
Because if you’re a female heroine in Hong Kong you have to follow the rules, so Dark Heroine Muk Lan-Fa gives away all the money she stole to the poor, along with a flower (an orchid pin in this case.) This rule is so concrete it has spilled over into real life. She does get gifts for her mom and sister when she returns home. But she has some guests…policemen who were waiting in her bedroom. They’re not here to arrest her, but to recruit her! And the James Bond theme plays, because we can’t have a foreign action movie from the 60s that hasn’t stolen the James Bond theme. It’s just not right!
Soon Inspector Chan is menacing mom, trying to tie the flower and grappling hook to her. The male thief from earlier is Ko Cheung, and he returns to the Bald Bad Guy’s apartment to talk to him. But some sort of lightning weapon kills Bald Bad Guy! Ko Cheung is captured and brought to the police station, where Inspector Chan interrogates him. They show him film of what we just saw re: lightning stuff (complete with edits, closeups, zooms…impressive work for the 1960s….) Muk Sau-Jan is a stenographer at police station, which allows her to spy on what is going on and see Ko Cheung is there and marks him as a target.
That night Dark Heroine visits Ko Cheung, beats him up and steals a folder of information. And all the bullets to his gun. Dark Heroine’s gun also has a trick where a blade comes out of the end so it can be used as a knife, in addition to the normal bullets.
Ko Cheung fools no one by dressing as a bum in the park tracking someone, and a disguised Dark Heroine Muk Lan-Fa and her sister get the jump on him again. Dark Heroine is dressed as an even more unrealistic costume pretending to be a dude! “Dude” Muk Lan-Fa goes to meet with a contact, while her overconfident sister falls for the “Hey look over there!” trick and Ko Cheung escapes, then captures her and hands her over to goons.
Muk Lan-Fa and an old guy that is the contact talk on a boat, but Ko Cheung follows on a boat with another goon, and there is a machine gun fight on the water. There’s actually a lot of action going on in this film, though this is the first fight that’s using vehicles. It ends prematurely as Dark Heroine Muk Lan-Fa just jumps off the boat in the middle of the fight and is suddenly at a nightclub. A nightclub where chicks are hitting on her (she’s still dressed as a dude at this point.) Her well-manicured fingernails give her away (but not the fact that she looks so unlike a dude it’s crazy???) and the chick that was hitting on her pulls out a knife. They fight on the dance floor, and Muk Lan-Fa manages to grab her wallet via a grappling hook as the knife-packing chick escapes.
Prepare to be shocked as Bald Bad Guy isn’t dead and is at the club. He kills a rival via handshake poison ring, ’cause we got to get some spy gimmicks up in here! Soon Dark Heroine Muk Lan-Fa is captured by Ko Cheung, and gets reunited with her sister. Ko Cheung then goes out to have an adventure of almost being killed by Bald Bad Guy via exploding boat.
Dark Heroine Muk Lan-Fa and her sister escape via one of Dark Heroine’s secret gadgets. Ko Cheung believes he’s captured the exploding light device, but when he tests it, it does nothing. Ko Cheung is a failure. Why you fail so much, Ko Cheung?
Dark Heroine Muk Lan-Fa and Muk Sau-Jan then get into a gunfight outside Inspector Chan’s place. After shaking their pursuers, it’s time to sneak into some rooms. This room is guarded by beams of light that go across the door, sort of like those laser sensors we have nowadays. The Muk sisters easily fit under the beams, but Sau-Jan just couldn’t leave her purse behind and it bulks her up enough she sets off the alarms! Now, I know you’re wondering why would Sau-Jan bring along a purse during a breaking an entering, but that’s just because you haven’t seen how this season’s Louis Vuittons look with an all-black burglar catsuit! Now you can evade the fashion police along with the regular police. The Muk sisters also manage to avoid everyone and escape despite the purse mishap.
After the sisters watch a film for clues, they stumble across the secret lair of Bald Bad Guy, which has data on the secret explosives. Bald Bad Guy’s place, who returns to find them there. He secretly tries to set off the explosives to blow up him, but he is also a failure and they escape with the formula to the explosives. They even spot Bald Bad Guy and kill him in a shootout at a dock, and steal his boat. This is a prime example why you never load videos of your secret lair up to YouTube! The sisters boat their way to the meetup with another guy on another boat who trades them an explosive watch for a suitcase of money.
When they return home, it’s ransacked and Mom is missing (why wasn’t she at a hotel or something after Ko Cheung demonstrated he knew where they lived?)
Ko Cheung demands the explosive watch in return for their mother, and she gives him the watch. The director gets arty framing Ko Cheung meeting Inspector Chan in triumph behind some bars to emphasize how they are bad. Ko Cheung gives the watch to Inspector Chan, who then goes turncoat and sics his goons on Ko Cheung. Dark Heroine Muk Lan-Fa also arrives to beat up people, and the police raid the compound – there are gun battles everywhere. Murder, death, mayhem, scores of people getting shot. Muk Sau-Jan is running around brandishing two pistols and blowing dudes away. These pseudo-James Bond thief films always end in massacres! In a cool scene, Dark Heroine uses her knife gun to knife gun stab a goon in the head.
Inspector Chan has Mom captive, and attempts to escape. However, he makes one critical error: gunning down many cops while trying to escape, so Muk Lan-Fa and Ko Cheung gun him down. Before he dies, Inspector Chan reveals that he’s Muk Lan-Fa’s father. Holy Darth Vader, Batman! But he dies before he throws someone down a pit on the Death Star. Way to give up the ghost too early, buddy! I’m not sure if he’s also Muk Sau-Jan’s dad.
And we get one more reveal that Ko Cheung is a good cop working for the good police. So he’s 100% good pretending to be 100% bad. And that helps explain why he’ll be in the next two films.
As actiony as this gets at the end, the next Dark Heroine film will have much more action and much more spy stuff, even if the main boss pales in comparison to Sek Kin.
The Dark Heroine Series:
The Dark Heroine Muk Lan-Fa
The Dark Heroine Muk Lan-Fa Shattered the Black Dragon Gang
Lady in Black Cracks the Gate of Hell
Dark Heroine Muk Lan-Fa Pulp Covers
Rated 9/10 (Ring around the rosies, David Chow Wing-Kwong, double-headed eagle, what a bum, YouTube of the 1960s!, watch this!, a gun in the nick of time!, The Chief, studio logo)
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Film Poster ganked from HKMDB