Best known for the films Hex (1980) and The Boxer’s Omen (1983), maverick auteur Kuei Chih-Hung began his career directing action films for Shaw Brothers, and The Lady Professional (1971) is one such film. The Lady Professional sees Shaw Brothers capitalizing on the popular Japanese sub-genre of “lady assassin” pictures. To do this, Shaw Brothers brought in Matsuo Akinori to share directing duties with Kuei Chih-Hung.
The Lady Professional follows Ge Tianli (Lily Ho Li-Li) who is blackmailed into assassinating a witness on behalf of an international smuggling ring. When the smugglers double cross Ge Tianli she exacts her revenge by systematically dismantling the criminal empire one boss at a time. The plot may be contrived but it’s delivered with exuberance by the filmmakers.
Lily Ho Li-Li was a Shaw Brothers staple and brings a surprising amount of depth to a character who is hardly developed beyond her insatiable thirst for vengeance. Lily Ho Li-Li was the quintessential deadly siren of Shaw Brothers’ movies and required no introduction for Hong Kong audiences at the time that The Lady Professional was released. But The Lady Professional is pretty standard fare for a Lily Ho Li-Li vehicle and is really more remarkable as an early Kuei Chih-Hung venture.
Although the script for The Lady Professional is mediocre, the direction is pretty inspired. Of course it’s difficult to determine which choices Matsuo Akinori made and which were Kuei Chih-Hung’s. Regardless, devices such as the fast-motion photography are a brilliantly irreverent stroke of reflexive humor worthy of any of Kuei Chih-Hung’s later pictures. But the real standout visual element of The Lady Professional is the use of tilted angles and rapid cutting. This may have been a popular aesthetic at the time, but it’s executed remarkably well and with great assurance in The Lady Professional.
Personally, I’m a sucker for films about lady assassins. I one-hundred percent believe in Ge Tianli’s killer powder box and am in awe of how badass she looks in a habit. Sure The Lady Professional is kind of corny and totally derivative, but it’s also a ton of fun and totally re-watchable. When the scene where Ge Tianli takes out a trio of super hitmen is over I lamented the fact that a film like The Lady Professional would never be made today. I encourage all to watch The Lady Professional as a triple feature with Silk (1986) and Sworn To Justice (1996).