Deaf-Mute Heroine (1971)
The Deaf-Mute Heroine steals some pearls, for reasons that are never disclosed, and a whole lot of people want to get them from her, or generally eliminate her. The problem (for them) is her superlative sword skills, hindered not at all by her handicaps. Romance blossoms with a kind but naive cloth-dyer, but it is not a good time to be romancing this heroine.
THE DEAF-MUTE HEROINE is a swordplay film that absorbs a lot from Chang Cheh (the huge numbers of bloody, exaggerated deaths) but in a female-centric storyline that harkens back to the late 60's, making it an interesting link/cross-over. Helen Ma stars as the heroine (though she does little to deserve the label "heroic") with the handicaps observed in the title. To overcome her lack of audio-awareness, she uses reflective arm bands as wing mirrors... a cunning device indeed.
The story-line is lacking in exposition, with the theft of 300 pearls leading dozens of people to take on The Heroine, producing much misery and death all round. Quite why she stole the pearls in the first place, or every man and his dog would risk their lives to get them off her, is never really explored. The romance with Tang Ching is developed much more satisfactorily, and it is only there that any real character development is attempted.
What the film lacks in narrative or character development, it makes up for in action. There's a lot of fighting, some of it very inventive and well shot. Helen Ma is *fierce* in her mute carnage, and no amount of red paint is spared in the pursuit of violent deaths. Wu Ma had worked as assistant or co-director with Chang Cheh a few times before this film (and many times after), and clearly absorbed much of his style and ethos. There are clear influences from King Hu & Lo Wei's swordplay films as well, making for very little that's original but a satisfying blend of old-school fun. What makes the film particularly stand out is Helen Ma's intense performance, out-doing Cheng Pei-Pei in ferocity. Nemesis Shirley Wong also gives a grand performance, slutty and vicious in equal measures... it's definitely a film that's owned by the female cast, though their characters can hardly be called feminine.
Besides these actresses, the choreography and direction of the fight scenes is the main source of satisfaction. Some of it's a bit hokey (especially the wire work), and it doesn't have the grace of a King Hu film, but it's plenty good fun :)