“Kung Fu Girl”, also known as “None but the Brave”, was originally released back in 1973 as a vehicle for Cheng Pei Pei, the former Shaw Brothers martial arts queen, who had been lured back to Hong Kong by Golden Harvest after apparently giving up her career and moving to the US. Having starred in the likes of “Come Drink with Me”, “Golden Swallow” and “The Lady Hermit”, she had chosen to retire at the very top of her profession, and indeed the film marked her second last appearance for almost a decade before she gradually moved back to the genre in the 1980s and 1990s, culminating in her major comeback role in Ang Lee’s 2000 blockbuster “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”. “Kung Fu Girl” was directed by Lo Wei, a frequent helmer for Golden Harvest who was also responsible for Bruce Lee’s classic “Fist of Fury”.
Set during the early years of the Republic of China, the film sees Cheng Pei Pei as Ying, a patriotic young woman who goes undercover to try and find out where a student revolutionary leader called Choi is being imprisoned. Coming up against the invading Japanese and their puppet government, she works her way into the favour of Lui, the Peking Bureau Chief of Security (played by Au Wai, “Fallen Petals”) by pretending to be his long lost younger sister. Her investigations pull her deeper into the revolutionary struggle, and she puts her life on the line as she faces off against deadly enemies on all sides.
The plot of “Kung Fu Girl” is surprisingly complex and involved, with plenty of political intrigue and two-faced scheming, even though most of the spying succeeds thanks to the fortunate fact that Ying’s targets don’t seem to mind her sitting around in the same room while they discuss supposed secrets. Although things get a little confusing at times, this does make for a change from the usual revenge quests and training scenes, and the film is generally engaging.
Perhaps inevitably, film is a fiercely patriotic affair, being filled with speeches of revolutionary zeal, and with noble self-sacrifice rearing its head several times, frequently recalling “Fist of Fury”. As usual, the Japanese make for amusing villainous stereotypes, stopping at nothing to put the Chinese down and to arouse righteous anger in the heroes. All of this works well in the traditional style of the genre at the time, and the flag-waving never gets in the way of the action too much, which comes thick and fast in the form of multiple mass brawls. Despite being prolific, Lo Wei was never one of the more dynamic directors of the period, especially during his later career, and at over 2 hours the film is somewhat too long, with the pace sagging somewhat in places, at least until he has the good sense to throw in another scuffle to keep the viewer engaged. The fight scenes are well handled and exciting, with brief appearances from a host of future stars, including Jackie Chan, Corey Yuen, and Yuen Wah that are sure to keep fans happy.
Cheng Pei Pei is on good form, and although arguably lacking the fierce intensity and beauty of Angela Mao, she brings a wide eyed sense of mischief and fun to the role, switching to indignant righteousness and steely determination as required. Although famous for her sword skills at Shaw Brothers, most of her scenes here feature more basic fisticuffs, though she certainly has plenty of chances to show off her talents, frequently coming up against hordes of opponents. She also performs quite a few decent stunts, making for an acrobatic and energetic performance, and does seem to be having a good time with her role.
As such, she effectively carries “Kung Fu Girl”, and lifts it from being a fairly standard martial arts caper into something more enjoyable. Whilst not offering anything particularly new, it delivers the goods and is sure to please fans of the form or the star.
Wei Lo (director) / Wei Lo (screenplay)
CAST: Pei-pei Cheng … Shao Ying
Wei Ou … Lei
Wei Lo … Commissioner Wu