The Great Escape From Women's Prison (1976)

Directed by: Chang Il-Ho & Ting Chung
Written by: Sze To-Man, Lee Hae-Woo & Lee Mun-Ung
Producers: Ting Pao-Sheng & Kim Tai-Soo
Starring: Ko Keung, Yoon Mi-Ra, Lee Dae-Keun, Choe Jae-Ho & Chang Pei-Shan

1976 was a year South Korea and Taiwan teamed up for co-productions and the name of the game was female prisoner-movies. The year also saw legendary director Shin Sang-Ok do Girls In The Tiger Cage, its sequel Revenge In The Tiger Cage and finally (but maybe there's more?) there was The Great Escape From Women's Prison. Noted as co-directed by Chang Il-Ho who had credits at Shaw Brothers (The Thunderbolt Fist), he was no stranger to working in another territory and markets and presumably there as anchor and translator for the Korean cast. The film is not just a big, active poster but presents fair momentum and impact on the exploitation scale of things and that means it's not made by disengaged folks.

China is under Japanese military law and a family in particular is affected by this. Especially since the son Yeung Fung Kau (Lee Dae-Kun) has defected to the Japanese side. Driven by jealousy and hatred, he starts to imprison the women of the family (including his mother) but the husbands and resistance-fighters are mounting an escape-plan...

The movie ticks off several already old tropes of the genres early. Some dangerously close to making the product tiring but some that jolts you as well. Expectedly the tragic separation of family gets the melodramatic treatment but the positive thing is that our directing-duo never stays in one mood for too long. Because we're fairly quickly led into the requisite sadism, torture, nightmarish conditions of the prison-camp and even taken aback when one of the wives is about to have her tongue ripped out before sent off to a shared jail cell.

It's these moments that at least makes The Great Escape From Women's Prison decently effective as an exploitation-piece but fair engagement across the board helps, including between the various actresses that showcases a good enough sisterhood and care but of course some take the chance to be treated better if they give up their bodies. So as cheap as the choices sounds, they are executed with a degree of professionalism and effect. If no one wanted to be there, it would've shown in impact and pace.

The duality of Lee Dae-Kun's character leads to some overacting but the extreme contrasts makes for entertaining and even slightly scary viewing where the directors showcase the ugly nature of gleeful power fueled by an adult child mentally behind those pedals. Refined it is perhaps not and the gunplay (during the requisite breakout-sequence) gives us no particular style. So it isn't a great escape but worthy of examination since it understands a good amount of what it's supposed to do.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson