Sunday, May 28, 2023



PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *cosmological, metaphysical*

First, I have to correct some false information I purveyed in my 2012 review of MATCHING ESCORT. I stated that this film, starring Taiwanese kung-fu diva Chang Ling, appeared in 1983, prior to the subject of this review, Ling's 1982 WOLF DEVIL WOMAN, and that ESCORT seemed to re-use some of the sets of what I thought the earlier film. Ten years later, I don't know if I actually read a false history of the two films, or if I assumed ESCORT came second because some markets retitled it WOLF DEVIL WOMAN 2. But IMDB states that ESCORT was in 1981, and that it was also the first of three films (another source says four) that Chang both starred in and directed. This makes sense, for ESCORT is much more ordinary film than DEVIL. Since ESCORT was said to have been a box office flop, I can imagine Chang and her crew trying to gear up to make their next effort as wild and attention-getting as possible.

This Teleport City review asserts that DEVIL was based on a 1958 wuxia novel that was also the source for numerous  wuxia films, notably Ronny Yu's 1993 BRIDE WITH WHITE HAIR. That novel, going by the Wiki summary, deals with a vigilante swordswoman who has a love affair with a young nobleman, but when they fall out her hair turns white, making her fundamentally inhuman, a state that can only be reversed if she eats a rare ginseng root. I can't tell if some of the other details associated with film adaptations stem from the 1958 novel or not-- the idea that the swordswoman is raised by wolves before being taken in by a criminal clan, for instance.

Since there aren't very many adaptations of the novel prior to Chang Ling's film, I speculate that the actress-- who had been wildly popular on Taiwanese television, and who was surely seeking to build a new rep in the film world-- tailored the contents of the novel to suit her needs. I have the impression that there had been earlier Hong Kong films with "wild child" protagonists, but in any case Chang devotes nearly half of DEVIL to creating the persona of her wolf-girl, eventually given the name "Snow Flower." Snow Flower is never adopted by any kind of clan, hanging out with the wolves from infanthood to adulthood. For some reason she wears clothes, including a cowl made from a wolfskin, and she lives in a snowy cave with her wolf-mother. (Since a real wolf would die in the time it takes for a human to grow to maturity, maybe Snow Flower imagines that the wolf in her company is the one that adopted her.) 

How does she get there? Well, funny thing. There is an evil cult, headed by a masked magician named "Red Devil." (In an early VHS translation, the villain was called "Blue Devil" and made to talk like Yosemite Sam, while characters with names like Lee and Wong were named "Rudolph and Rudy.") Red Devil plots to rule the world by terrorizing the local gentry. In addition to surrounding himself with ninja-style assassins, he also sacrifices human beings by making voodoo dolls of them and then subjecting the dolls to various torments. He keeps their corpses on display, which apparently alienates two new adherents, a husband and wife, causing them to flee the cult, their newborn child in hand. The Devil's agents pursue, but the parents-- who are apparently kung-fu masters-- conceal themselves by creating an avalanche to cover themselves and their child. (How do they do it? Oh, they ram their heads against a snowy mountainside.) Providentially, before the Devil's pawns can unearth the bodies, a pack of wolves come along, drive the cultists away, and unearth the still-living infant. Oh, and for good measure the mother-wolf feeds the infant a magical ginseng root, from which she will later manifest supernatural powers.

So that's all in the first ten minutes. Clearly, to keep this review from going on four times the norm, I'll have to confine myself to the high points. Fortunately, DEVIL is an episodic flick, so I'm doing no violence to the plot in excerpting the best bits.

*Nobleman Lee and his retainer Wong come to Snow Flower's stomping grounds, looking for the rare root to use against Red Devil. Not only do these worthies name Snow Flower and teach her to speak Chinese in a few days, Lee-- also a kung fu wizard-- observes that the girl walks hunched-over from living with wolves. So he uses super-fu to straighten her spine.

*Lee goes back to his father to report his failure, and the ninjas show up to kidnap him. Red Devil uses magical gas to turn Lee into his slave.

*Snow Flower wanders into some town and gets drunk. This triggers the super-powers in her body, and her hair turns white. She tosses villagers around like insects but they subdue her and dunk her in the well. Wong rescues her, and moments later she becomes a well-dressed swordswoman who can ride a horse. She only shows a few vestiges of her wolf-persona. Once she leaps into the air with one of Red Devil's men and tears the guy apart the way she earlier tore a rabbit apart. Also, her weapon of choice is a long rope with a wolf-claw at either end, which works surprisingly well against Red Devil's animated fire-bolts and hopping vampires. (These are the revived bodies of the corpses on display in Red Devil's sanctum.)

There's a part of me that really wants to rate this wild opus as having good mythicity, just because it takes the sentimental love-story of the novel and crossbreeds it with a zany wild-child adventure. But the script, which was probably concocted on the fly, doesn't indicate that Chang-- also said to be the writer-- had any insight on the novel's use of Chinese folklore. But if I had a "fair-to-good" category, WOLF DEVIL WOMAN would be top of the list.

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