Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Wolf Devil Woman (1982)

In 1984, DC Comics introduced the world to the character of Dan Cassidy.  Cassidy is a movie stuntman, and he’s hired to play a monster in a very state-of-the-art costume that would likely make the late Stan Winston weep.  While shooting on location, Nebiros, an insectoid/dinosaurian demon is unleashed from his temple/tomb.  Believing that Cassidy is another demon, Nebiros attempts to drain the magical power from the man, but instead the creature winds up fusing the tech suit permanently to Cassidy.  Created by Dan Mishkin, Gary Cohn, and Paris Cullins, the newly christened Blue Devil had his own series which ran for thirty-two issues.  One of the more interesting things about it was that Cassidy became what was dubbed a “weirdness magnet,” because of the fusion of technology and magic he embodied.  This communion was appealing to me as a kid for a couple of reasons.  One, I loved monster movies, so anything that touched on that subject, even briefly, was attractive.  Two, the character’s meshing of science fiction and fantasy was appealing in much the same way that things like Karl Edward Wagner’s Kane stories were.  Of course, eventually DC decided to just make Cassidy a plain, old demon, robbing him of his more intriguing aspects but leaving his Average Joe outlook on most things.  I bring this up because Pearl Chang’s Wolf Devil Woman (aka Lang Nu Bai Mo aka Wolfen Queen) has a villain whom the subtitles refer to alternately as Red Devil and Blue Devil.  While I guess you can say inspiration struck me at that moment, you can equally make the case that I just threw any old thing together to fill up space.  Much like Chang’s film.  

Red/Blue Devil tortures some guy on a crucifix in front of his gathered gang of grim ghouls.  Horrified, Warrior of Steel Sparrow and his wife Jade flee with their infant, but the parents die, and the infant is carried off by a white wolf.  Raised in an ice cave by said wolf (as essayed by a German Shepherd), the baby grows into a woman.  Meanwhile, gormless Lee and Wong search for the mystical ginseng root that can defeat the Devil.  They encounter the eponymous Woman, teach her to read and write, name her Snowflower, and get her tangled up in all this nonsense.

Wolf Devil Woman posits itself as a standard Kung Fu revenge film.  Like many of the martial arts films released around this same time (or just Taiwanese genre cinema in general), it ramps up its odd elements to add some flavor to the proceedings.  So, Red/Blue Devil wears a mesh KKK hood with a jolly roger on it.  The majority of his lackies are red-garbed ninja.  A couple of his henchmen are outright demons (or maybe they just dress the part; Their faces are actual, immobile, store-bought Halloween masks; Yes, really).  Snowflower lives in a stylized ice cave with weird, bubbling, green springs.  She also dresses, at first, in wolf skins (this would be like a caveman dressing in caveman skins, but waste not, want not, I guess), and she sports an honest-to-God stuffed dog doll on her head (the first time I saw it waltzing across the crest of a snow drift, I thought it was supposed to be a wolf as played by a puppet, and this brought forth pleasant memories of Danger Five).  Master Chu is the wise and wizened wizard who knows all and whose machinations the other characters serve. 

The setup ostensibly tells the story of Snowflower's thirst for vengeance from the cradle to the grave.  Yet, Chang (who also wrote the script and plays Snowflower) gives us a narrative that flounders in three parts, none of which fully satisfy.  The first third is the story of Snowflower's discovery and her introduction to semi-civilized society.  This section drags on endlessly, with only the Wuxian straightening of her spine as any sort of gratification.  The second section moves the central plot along a bit with the Devil carrying out his plan for world mastery in the most tangential ways possible.  The third section, then, is Snowflower's ineluctable blooming into a superhero, signified by her learning to dress in actual cloth, gaining her own specialty weapon (a couple of oversized claws strung together with a tether of fur), and defeating the villains.  For as dull as the first third is, the last two are equally bewildering in their staccato pacing and confused editing (no real surprise for movies of this era and area, so a part of me accepts this while a part of me still finds it a task to sit through).  Chang loves her smash zooms, and she also loves to repeat the same shot multiple times in rapid succession for effect (the only one is achieves is ridiculousness).  The possibilities for greatness are here.  They just have no controlling hand to guide them. 

The overriding concept of the Sunflower character herself is the division between the animal and the civilized worlds.  Her origin lies in the world of Men and the evil that resides in it.  Her parents are aghast at the lengths to which the Devil goes (possibly because of the presence of their daughter and their desire to maintain her innocence, but we also have no inkling why they were there in the first place).  The wolf that adopts her is pure, natural, and true to herself (in the same way that the wolves who adopted Mowgli were).  Snowflower grows up and gains powers through the naturally growing ginseng root.  Nevertheless, because she behaves in a way antithetical to the mores of civilized men, she has to be changed, tamed against the social ignorance she has known (biting people is a no-no, for example).  As a result, she finds love, but she also has to face the fact that this maturation (for want of a better term) could lead to her death.  In the same way that the blood of her parents shielded her as a baby, so too does her blood protect the world.  It's actually all quite biblical in a few ways.

I admire Chang for getting Wolf Devil Woman made and with the seeming degree of control she maintained on it.  Unfortunately, it's just not that good.  While it has the garish look and ludicrous premise which make films like these fun, it also muddles the action beyond the verge of disappointment.  The characters are colorful to look at, but none of them have any sort of compelling personalities or really do much of interest.  Bizarrely, Wong, the painful comic relief gets more focus than anyone else, and man, that's just a pitfall that no wolf woman can dig her way out of.

MVT:  Chang gets all of the credit and the blame for this one.

Make or Break:  The lengthy sequence of Lee and Wong hanging out with Sunflower in her ice cave stops any momentum dead in its tracks.

Score:  5/10

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