Continuing the examination of IFD Films & Arts catalogue that included horror, action, thrillers and fantasy of the late 70s/early 80s coming out of Taiwan, for a breakdown of the basic history of IFD, please visit the series debut review of Wolfen Ninja.
Released in 1985, Deadly Darling was the re-title of female director Yang Chia-Yun's 1981 rape/revenge thriller The Lady Avenger and was released intact without any footage spliced in by IFD (a ninja plot could've fit alongside the rape/revenge theme though... believe me). Both the director and star Luk Siu-Fan (credited as Karen Yang and Fonda Lynn respectively in IFD's all Westernized, partly made up credits. Godfrey Ho was the production designer so that cements that fact) turns up in the IFD catalogue multiple times, most notably in Yang's Pink Force Warriors (original title Women Warriors Of Kinmen) and Luk in 1982's The Anger was merged with Richard Harrison in Inferno Thunderbolt. The Lady Avenger was further highlighted as it screened at certain festivals anyway in a rare original language version print alongside Hou Chi-Jan's award nominated documentary Taiwan Black Movies (Golden Horse nominee for Best Documentary) that also focused on this Taiwanese filmmaking period of 1979 to 1983 and featuring interviews with Yang Chia-Yun, Luk Siu-Fan and Chu Yen-Ping (Island Of Fire, Golden Queen's Commando). Worthy of that highlight alongside a documentary dedicated to a lost, very exciting filmmaking period? You betcha and even though the first half is undeniably effective despite much on the nose social commentary and melodrama, it's ambitious and makes the basic second revenge set piece-half less involving. No doubt though, Yang Chia-Yun comes at the genre with a neat perspective of pushing hard but not in the areas you might expect.
When actress Carol (Hsu Siu-Ning) can't bring her rapist (Wa Lun) to justice, she tries to get revenge but ends up dead under mysterious circumstances. Having escaped a conviction through money and influence over the media, the one journalist fighting alongside Carol is Wendy (Luk Siu-Fan) who refuses to give up once the case is closed. Falling victim to a rape by five men herself, destroyed emotionally and abandoned by her fiancee (Richard Cui), there's only one course of action left... revenge.
Yang Chia-Yun seems to channel a Taiwan at the time, where products are sold through sex and those being the picture of them (and objects of desire therefore) have themselves to blame if men are attracted to the point where the rapist and sadist comes out. A terrible and bleak view of the world but probably not unfair, also the way wealth can get you out of any hole becomes a distressing side to the Carol sub-story as it turns out. Amidst this, Yang obviously do feature various rape scenes and violence but across the board, she gets her effect across by doing less than you might think and that less has to do with the almost zero percent nudity in the film. The first rape doesn't go on for long but elements of Wa Lun's character forcing Carol's head under water and violating her on the shore of the water is pretty much an in your face, gritty depiction of the heinous act... despite going on for a very short time. It's more distressing in the aftermath and when we as viewers start feeling disgust about the cynicism of the world. It may be played very melodramatically and hugely on the nose but there's no shortage of gasps in an audience when those having been violated are being abandoned by their partners just to save face. An example of a dramatic beat that succeeds.
An effect is achieved through Luk Siu-Fan's performance as well, especially after the humiliation and terror she's put through by the multiple men eventually raping her. A very game actress, it's a distressing situation taking place amidst muddy water and a construction site that in its way adds to the ugliness more than an extended rape would because guess what... writer/director Yang NEVER shows Wendy being raped. Completely lost and blank in her entire body, it speaks volumes when Luk Siu-Fan is showing this destruction in her face. Deadly Darling hits so many buttons right eventually despite unsubtle ways of getting there.
It's a bit of a shame that the second half is merely one revenge set piece after the other as Yang's seriousness doesn't quite flow well with Luk Siu-Fan catching weak men at a slaughterhouse, a gambling den and out in the woods. Having said that, Luk is incredibly iconic and intense within these so complaint stands but a praise towards the stretches of tough film put together still stands as well. An unusual amount of depth therefore comes through without Deadly Darling becoming pretentious.
reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson