Miraculous Flower (Review)
aka Phoenix The Ninja aka 蓋世奇花 aka Wolf Devil Woman 3 aka Gai shi ji hua
Script by Godfrey Ho Jeung-Keung
Story by Pearl Cheung Ling
Directed by Fong Ho
It’s Pearl Cheung Ling Time! Another classic Pearl Cheung Ling martial arts cinema masterpiece gets its due. Miraculous Flower (possibly better known as Phoenix The Ninja, as that’s the name I knew it as for years!) is a great piece of cinema that stands on the edge of Pearl-insanity and classic wuxia revenge. Filled with kooky characters, varied and elaborate environments, and plenty of gory action, Miraculous Flower pulls out all the stops and succeeds in being entertaining and fun.
This is her first film where Pearl is actively involved in the narrative construction beyond just a producer role. And while she did come up with the story, it’s obvious that they needed to follow a more traditional kung fu revenge narrative. While it still walks the edge of the volcano, there are moments where things go a bit wild. It is probably safe to say some of the smaller quirks are also Pearl’s doing, and things were added to tailor to her interests. When Pearl is dressed in the all black revenge costume and swooping around like an angel of death, that’s pretty much pure Pearl Cheung Ling. Her transformation sequence in Matching Escort involves her donning a full white costume, while in Wolf Devil Woman the entire character changes constantly through the film. Dark Lady of Kung Fu deals with this by having Pearl’s character having two separate identities. By the time of her final film General Invincible, the Pearl character is torn between two worlds and duty and honor from those worlds, and the consequences thereof.
For more Pearl Cheung Ling background, be sure to check out the Infernal Brains Podcasts on her (Part 1 is here, Part 2 is upcoming!) and check out the other Pearl reviews up – Matching Escort and Dark Lady of Kung Fu.
As we noted before, Matching Escort was retitled during a released as Wolf Devil Woman 2, and Miraculous Flower was retitled Wolf Devil Woman 3, despite being made before either of the other two films! I have two versions of Miraculous Flower, the Hong Kong release that features all the gore but is missing some scenes in the beginning featuring the Happy Fairy, and the international IFD retitle Phoenix the Ninja that has the gore trimmed but doesn’t feature any full cut scenes. I do not know why the early scenes were cut, maybe to make room on a vcd or something? Both versions feature different credit sequences. A good breakdown of the two versions can be found here.
Ao-shuang Leng is just a girl whose mom is dying and gives her a final quest right before she keels over. Mom tells Ao-shaung to look for the Happy Fairy to learn feat of arms, and then climb Er May Mountain and find Nun Jing-in in Bau-tong Temple. Simple instructions, right? Ao-shaung has a special walking stick given to her by her mom and is ordered to burn the walking stick when the quest is completed. I’m sure there is nothing important hidden in that walking stick that burning will reveal!
Ao-shaung’s wandering gives her a random encounter with a nice lady who pays for a stay at the inn, and also has her cross paths with the handsome Lord No-dust. Lord No-dust hates dirt, and really hates dirt on his pure white outfits. Lord No-dust went on to found Clorox years later. Despite getting dirt on his outfit, the two hit it off, enough that when they bump into each other again he gives her a fan and she walks him to his place, Snow Shadow in Plume Woods.
She heads on alone, and at night overhears conspirators planning to raid Snow Shadow at Plume Woods and kill Lord No-dust’s father Sheue Huai-jen. Ao-shuang returns and warns, meaning the attackers are mostly killed (one named Lonely Fly escapes.) Sheue adopts Ao-shuang as a daughter and she lives there for a little while, enough to see Sheue Huai-jen attacked once again by a warrior named Lonely Walker and a purple ninja. Like Lonely Fly, they blame Sheue for betraying them in their quest to eliminate the May family. The attackers are killed by another mystery masked warrior in all white who is obviously Lord No-dust, but dad just can’t figure that out.
Ao-shaung realies it is him and he confesses he learned martial arts in secret because his dad forbid it. Ao-shuang demands he teach her as well, and we get a training montage. Sheue sees them spending time together and assumes they’re going to get married.
But a ninja wizard bursts into Ao-shuang’s room one night and leads her to her mom’s grave, reminding Ao-shaung of her mission. Also the ninja wizard is a woman named My Lady, though you’ll remember her as the lady who paid for the night in the inn and earlier in the review where she’s listed as Happy Fairy in the Roll Call. Ao-shuang continues on her quest.
The first night out some drunk guy assaults her and she ends up accidentally killing him with a Buddha’s Palm-type strike that leaves a handprint on his chest. She then runs across a monk who has been staying at the same spot for 20 years. He claims she’s the last member of the May family and wants her to kill him because he killed her mother. But she denies she’s a May, and also says she wouldn’t kill him and would persuade May not to, because of his regret.
Shortly afterwards, a ninja on a bridge beats her up and steals a jewel box from her, and her staff falls off the bridge. My Lady shows up and chases off the ninja, then stops Ao-shuang from killing herself by jumping off the bridge. She makes Ao-shuang her servant/student for 1 year.
Cut to a montage of Ao-shuang being trained in various methods. This montage is different from any training montage I have ever seen. It’s held together by My Lady telling verious gossip/background items about the May family in between Ao-shuang’s various duties. One shot has Ao-shuang holding onto ropes, then pulls out to show My Lady swinging on a seat at the end of the ropes. We also see Ao-shuang tied to a log while a fire burns nearby, her standing in weird positions, and finally buried inside a giant snowman with only her eyes showing.
One year later, Adama has a mustach! Also My Lady makes Ao-shaung jump from the bridge. She does, then floats down and flies back to the bridge. Thanks, kung fu! My Lady then reveals she is the Happy Fairy her mom sent her to find, and that she got the magic box back. Inside the box is a letter that proves to Ao-shuang that she is the missing May child, and who she thought was her mother was her nursemaid. Everyone else was killed. Ao-shuang must burn her stick to honor her dad, May Dong-ching. Of course a sword is hidden inside, the Bowel-cutting Blade! It’s a blade that rips out your intestines when it’s pulled out of a stab wound in the stomach. Yes, that gory effect will be used twice in the flick.
Now it’s revenge time! Ao-shuang/May is dressed up in all black and will now chop down the people who slaughtered her family. She also leaves a flower by the bodies…the Flower of Revenge! The best part of this revenge sequence is each kill/battle is in a different environment:
- A guy in a castle is killed.
- A guy at a waterfall is killed, including a neat sequence where they travel underwater with the tips of their blades sticking out to appear as shark fins.
- A guy in snow killed by Ao-shuang skiing by.
- Lonely Fly is killed on his muddy cow farm.
But she must also kill her adopted father Sheue Huai-jen. Before she gets to him, she’s stopped by Lord No-dust, who will fight her to defend his father. But she defeats him without killing him and returns to Snow Shadow in Plume Woods to face her adoptive father. The village is covered in falling snow, and abandoned as Sheue told everyone to leave so they don’t get hurt. It’s a very beautiful setting and I wish we had a great remastered widescreen print to view it on. You can see the conflicting emotion with Ao-shuang as she heads to Sheue, each step forward she bows in respect and does it so forcefully she slams her head, causing a big bloody bruise to form. But they know they must fight. The battle is pretty good, with lots of quick movements and jumps. Even Lord No-dust arriving and getting slashed doesn’t stop it. After some more swordplay, Happy Fairy arrives and reveals that Sheue was the guy who betrayed the people fighting the Mays so the baby May could escape!
Uh…shouldn’t this have been important information to tell Ao-shuang before she went to kill Sheue??? Good grief.
The Real Killer is the guy who sent letters to kung fu masters that framed May’s dad, wanting them to kill him. They suspect Syma Chin-cherng, May’s dad’s brother. He’s also that Monk who was waiting at the same spot for decades. He confesses to Ao-shuang, explaining he did it all for the Bowel-cutting Blade. And he was just waiting at that spot for the Bowel-cutting Blade. And was the ninja on the bridge that robbed her trying to steal the Bowel-cutting Blade.
Dude really likes the Bowel-cutting Blade. Maybe he should have paid a guy to make another one.
They fight a fight that is inside a cave filled with fire. It’s a great fight, and very graphic, filled with lots of fire, explosions, flying around, bombs, slices, smart remarks, people getting stabbed, ears chopped off, eye gouges,
and people fighting after ripping their guts out. But revenge is revenged.
The bloody mess is all over. The narrative structure keeps the plot going, even when the various sidetracks seem to be threatening to bog us down in subplots. And Pearl sure likes to look at things through small openings!
Rated 8/10 (Ocean, Lonely Fly, servant girl, pendant, the palm, brush holder, the fateful note, Ocean)
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