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Film Review: Wolf Devil Woman (1982)

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SYNOPSIS:

An orphaned baby adopted by wolves grows up and becomes a talented martial artist who swears revenge on her parents’ killer.

REVIEW:

Wolf Devil Woman (1982) is a Taiwanese fantasy-horror (and, I would argue, attempted comedy) film starring, penned, and directed by Pearl Cheung Ling, an actress well-known for her work in martial arts films in the 1970s and 1980s and apparently not well-acquainted with the concept of cinematic subtlety (but we’ll talk about that a little later).

The film begins in medias res with a malevolent ritual involving a vodou doll and a half-naked man on a cross. While the scene contains a great deal of screaming, reverb, and special effects lightning, it doesn’t contain a great deal of clarity. (We’ll have to wait quite a while for any of that.)

We cut abruptly to a couple racing through a snow-covered landscape, panicked and holding a squalling infant. Armed attackers led by a man in a bizarre demon mask surround them. After a brief battle, the couple sacrifice themselves to save their baby, running themselves through with swords in the hope that their blood will keep their child warm as they trigger an avalanche to bury the area in snow.

Naturally, the blood-soaked baby girl is rescued by a pack of wolves, who bring her back to their lair and raise her as though she were one of their own.

By the time she reaches adulthood, she is absolutely lethal (particularly to rabbits, who bear the brunt of a lot of violence in this film. There are some fairly graphic scenes that I’m fairly certain are quite real – animal lovers be warned). Despite the lack of mirrors in the wolf den, the wolf woman’s eyeliner is always on point and her lipstick is perfectly applied. I covet this supernatural skill far more than her digging prowess.

When two men, Master Lee and his servant Wong, wander into her territory one day, she attacks, only to wind up with an arrow in her chest. When she escapes to her lair, the men follow the sound of her agonized howls and nurse her back to health. These trespassers have come to her mountain seeking white ginseng root, which, coincidentally enough, is the only thing that can defeat the Blue Devil who killed her parents.

Master Lee names the wolf woman Snowflower, and proceeds to My Fair Lady the hell out of her, styling her hair and giving her language instruction until she is proficient enough in Mandarin that he is able to explain the plot of the movie to her, at which point we finally get to embark upon the wild revenge ride that we came here to see.

Admittedly, Ms. Ling does have great screen presence and it’s unsurprising that she was cast in 24 films over the course of 11 years. She has, at times, a winsome guilelessness reminiscent of Clara Bow and oft-deft comedic timing. She’s also a rather proficient martial artist. One thing is certain – she is a better actor than she is a director or writer. The story is meandering and unfocused, the dialogue and many of the performances ludicrous.

The music is jarring, constant, and often at odds with the rest of the sound design. The editing is frenetic and frequently borderline seizure-inducing. The logic of the film is confounding – how does a woman raised in a wolf den learn how to ride a horse or swing a lasso? For that matter, who taught her how to swordfight? Did her wolf pack unwind after a day of hunting by fencing? Perhaps we’ll never know.

While Pearl Cheung Ling is a genuinely entertaining actress, this is perhaps not her best film to seek out. Thankfully, she has many more to choose from. Rating: 4 out of 10 wolf cubs.

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