Director: Zhu Mu
Writer: Louis Sit Chi Hung
Producer: Raymond Chow
Cast: Robert Lee, Sylvia Chang, Nick Lam Wai Kei, Shaw Yum Yum, Lee Kwan, Gam Dai, John Cheung Ng Long
Running Time: 86 min.
By Jeff Bona
Before Brandon and Shannon Lee stepped into the Hong Kong film industry to make Legacy of Rage (1986) and Enter the Eagles (1998) respectively; Robert Lee, Bruce Lee’s younger brother, was cast to appear in Lady Killer, an extremely bizarre 1977 film that also starred Sylvia Chang (Yellow Faced Tiger).
In Lady Killer, a popular singer named Ah Hui (played by Robert Lee) is approached by gangsters who want him to perform at their nightclub. When Ah Hui rejects, they set him up by making him believe he murdered an innocent man; Of course, Ah Hui falls for it. With nowhere to turn and the fear of being sent to jail, Ah Hui accepts help from the gangsters. In return, he has to sign an exclusive singing contract with them. Little does Ah Hui know, they have other sleazy plans in store for him.
Watching Robert Lee in The Lady Killer made me realize how much he looks nothing like Bruce. In fact, he’s almost opposite. Unlike Bruce, Robert is feminine, soft, and he doesn’t appear to have any noticeable muscle whatsoever – not to mention – zero martial arts capability.
It’s obvious that Golden Harvest, the film company responsible for all of Bruce’s films (including the posthumously released Game of Death), signed Robert on solely for the fact that he was Bruce’s brother ($$$). Most likely, The Lady Killer was planned to be more of an action film, but when it was realized that Robert was nothing like Bruce – or any other tough/action guy for the matter – the movie ended up being all over the place, genre-wise.
Still, the fact that Robert was nothing like his now-legendary bother didn’t stop the filmmakers from giving the audience a direct reminder that this was Bruce’s blood brother: Early on in The Lady Killer there’s an action scene where Robert’s character gets into a fight; as he gets into stance, Joseph Koo’s iconic soundtrack from Bruce Lee’s Way of the Dragon starts playing. It’s awkward to watch, but remember, “This is Bruce Lee’s brother everybody!” is what they’re marketing, so a moment like this is expected.
As for Robert’s fighting skills? Why don’t we just say that he was doing some basic moves that really don’t require any formal training whatsoever. His fight scenes aren’t laughably bad, but when you’re the brother of the world’s most famous kung fu star, expectations are sky high whether you like it or not. Thankfully (and I think Robert would agree), there’s only one martial arts sequence in the entire movie that involve Robert. From that point on, his character relies more on wit, than physical ability, to wean off his enemies.
Robert’s overall performance is passable, but he just doesn’t have that certain “punch” (no pun intended) or charisma to reach that movie star level. Sylvia on the other hand is amazing, which is a given, considering the acclaimed actress/filmmaker she would become later in her career.
The Lady Killer as a whole isn’t a good movie, but it entertained enough to keep me watching. It’s edgy, goofy and serious – all at the same time. Don’t let the caricature-style illustrations on the film’s poster fool you, because The Lady Killer is filled with partial nudity, sex, forced prostitution, gang rapes and women being smacked around. One minute Robert Lee is singing bubblegum pop songs, the next minute, Sylvia Chang is forced into being a whore.
Fun facts about The Lady Killer:
- The Lady Killer is directed by Zhu Mu, a filmmaker who was responsible for directing the early Jackie Chan movies, Police Woman (1973), Not Scared to Die (1973) and All in the Family (1975). During the theatrical release of Rumble in the Bronx (1995) in the U.S., many of Jackie’s pre-stardom films starting appearing on shelves like potato chips to cash-in on the box office success of Jackie Chan. Subsequently, Police Woman was released as Rumble in Hong Kong; Not Scared to Die was packaged as Young Tiger; and All in the Family, well, that’s another story.
- Gam Dai (Ah Quen from Way of the Dragon) and Lee Kwan (Ah Kun from The Big Boss) briefly appear together on the same screen. For years – thanks to the English dubbed versions of The Big Boss and Way of the Dragon – both actors, who look very similar, were dubbed as “Ah-koon,” so a lot of people actually believed they were the same person. The Lady Killer debunks this theory.
- Charles Bernstein’s soundtrack to the Burt Reynolds’ 1976 classic Gator plays in The Lady Killer a lot (and that’s a good thing). The track is called “Flight In the Night,” which has “borrowed” for many kung fu flicks of the 70s. You’ll recognize it once you hear it.
- Robert performs all of his own pop songs. This shouldn’t be a surprise, considering Robert is an actual singer/songwriter. In the 60s, Robert was the leader/founder of a successful Hong Kong beat band called “The Thunderbirds.” He also recorded duet tracks with popular Eurasian singer, Irene Ryder. To die hard Bruce Lee fans, he’s mostly known for his 1974 LP, “The Ballad of Bruce Lee.”
- Judging from The Lady Killer’s original trailer, the film was cut to shreds. Apparently there was a lot more nudity and even some extended fight sequences. Not sure why these scenes would end up in the trailer and not on the finished feature, but this practice isn’t unusual, especially for a Chinese film.
- Following Lady Killers, Robert Lee would appear in two more Hong Kong movies: Con Artists (1978) and A Little Reason (1979) before calling it quits. In 2010, he returned to movies by doing a brief, non-acting introduction to Bruce Lee, My Brother together with his older sister, Phoebe Lee.
More or less, Robert Lee is basically “The Frank Stallone of Hong Kong” – both men are brothers of two famous action stars; and both had semi-successful singing careers. Only Frank one-ups Robert by actually resembling Sylvester.
The Lady Killer is recommended for the curious.
Jeff Bona‘s Rating: 6/10