If Westerners know the work of Lo Wei at all, it is usually for directing Bruce Lee’s The Big Boss and Fists Of Fury, but prior to this he directed two movies featuring Lilly Ho as Agent 009. The films are The Angel With Iron Fists, made in 1966, and this the follow-up, released two years later. Both films borrow heavily from the James Bond series, but as the star of the films is a woman, then there’s a bit of Modesty Blaise thrown into the mix as well.
A taxi pulls up at Hong Kong airport, and a man rushes into the terminal to catch his flight. Unbeknownst to him, three members of the cleverly titled ‘Bomb Gang’ are watching. One of the three produces a baggage tag with a small circular yellow label on it. He walks over and bumps into the new arrival, who drops his suitcase. The ‘bumper’ picks the suitcase up and discreetly attaches the new tag, then hands it back. The little yellow label is a time bomb, and once the plane is on its way, the bomb detonates. The plane erupts in a fireball.
Next, one of the gang walks into a jewellery store. He asks to see some samples. As the jeweller is distracted, the gang member attaches a little yellow label to one of the jewellery boxes. After he leaves the store, the bomb goes off and the store is reduced to rubble. These scenes are accompanied by music pilfered directly from The Liquidator (by Lalo Schifrin).
After a groovy animated title sequence, we join Agent 009 (Lily Ho) as she dances to the radio, poolside, clad in a metallic white bikini. Ai Si (or Angel as I will call her) is called into headquarters. It appears that the people killed by the ‘Bomb Gang’ were in fact secret agents, and it is Angel’s mission to carry on where they left off.
Her first port of call is a night club where a strong man is performing on stage. After the strong man has bent an iron bar, he calls for volunteers from the audience to step forward to attempt the same feat. One man, Deng Lei, accepts the challenge – but rather than accept a new iron bar to bend, he grabs the strongman’s already bent bar, and bents it back to straight. The performer is not happy about having been made a fool out of in front of an audience, and as Deng leaves the club, he places an explosive tarantula on the back of his jacket. Angel has been watching, and rushes out after Deng. She warns him, and he flicks off his jacket just before the arachnid explodes.
After the incident, Angel meets her Xiang Xiang outside the club. Actually Xiang Xiang is actually a go between. The actual agent that Angel wants to contact is a amn named Paul, Agent 309. Paul is rather reclusive and hard to track down. Maybe that’s why he has stayed alive so long. But now the ‘Bomb Gang’ are onto him and he is lying low.
Eventually Angel and Paul meet in a club. He hands over a coded piece of information, but before he can reveal the code, he is poisoned and dies. Angels investigations lead her to ‘The Specialist’ who is the leader of the ‘Bomb Gang’. Angel manages to plant a homing device on ‘The Specialist’ and follows in her car.
‘The Specialist’ is onto the tail, and leads Angel to a wooded park area outside of town. Angel gets out of her car and is knocked unconscious. Luckily for Angel, ever since she saved Deng Lei’s life (from the exploding tarantula), he has been following her around, looking to repay the favour. Here he gets his chance. He helps Angel stage her own death, and then he invites her back to his home for a cigarette and a drink – What a pleasant chap!
To continue her investigations Angel adopts a new identity. She cuts her hair and dons a set on glasses. Then she dresses as a man. Somehow this disguise seems to work and soon she is back on the trail of the ‘Bomb Gang’. Personally I don’t think the transition works – even loose fitting suits cannot hide Lily Ho’s natural curves.
I think the Shaw Brothers, Bond inspired spy films are fantastic. They are fast paced, candy coloured treats for the eyes, and every bit as enjoyable as their European counterparts. The girls, good and bad, get to wear some wild fashion, from transparent plastic tops, to gold catsuits – each piece is an engineering marvel. On a similar note, the sets featured in The Angel Strikes Again are mind blowing. The villain’s lair is gaudy and outrageous – just like it should be.
The music is always interesting too. Whereas Eurospy films had top composers like Ennio Morricone, Mario Nascimbene, Piero Picconi and many others to create their unique spy soundscapes, the Asian version wasn’t above a bit of unabashed thievery and took their musical cues from popular Western sources. I have already mentioned that fragments of The Liquidator run through the pre-title sequence. Through the rest of the film we have some healthy lifts from John Barry’s Goldfinger. There are even a few snatches from a Spaghetti Western – I’ve heard the tune before but cannot recall the film – but that’s hardly important. Aurally we are treated to a smorgasbord of sixties them music.
The Angel Strikes Back is good old fashioned fun, and I think a small step up on its predecessor, The Angel With Iron Fists.