The Black Killer (1967)
Reviewed by: duriandave on 2006-04-12
Long before Michelle Yeoh kicked her way to international stardom, Connie Chan was Hong Kong’s reigning action queen. In fact, Connie was kicking butts even before director Chang Cheh ushered in his era of yanggang (masculinity) that radically changed the face of Hong Kong cinema. While he is given credit for injecting sweat and blood into the martial-arts film and for creating macho superstars out of Jimmy Wang Yu, David Chiang, and Ti Lung, none of this could have happened without the hard-hitting and creative action choreography of Lau Kar-leung and Tong Kai. But before they joined Chang at Shaw Brothers, Lau and Tong provided the moves for Connie and Josephine Siao in such martial-arts classics as Jade in the Red Dust (1966) and Aftermath of a Fire (1966) and in the modern-day action films that exploded onto the screen in 1966-67. Of Connie’s action movies currently available on video, The Black Killer is unquestionably the best. The fights are tense and powerful, and the factory finale shows Lau and Tong’s innovation in moving the action through an environment, a hallmark of Hong Kong action cinema that would reach its pinnacle in the films of Jackie Chan.

But a great action movie requires more than a strong hero and awesome fight scenes. It also needs a formidable opponent. Here it is provided by Sek Kin who gives a stunning physical and emotional performance. Sek Kin reached the heights of international recognition opposite Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon (1973), but he was long familiar to Chinese audiences as the villain in the perennial Wong Fei Hung films of the 1950s. He was so good at playing the bad guy that he made a career out of it. During the 60s he appeared in countless wuxia films, a whopping 71 of which co-starred Connie—that’s almost three times the number of movies she made with leading man Lui Kei! In The Black Killer Sek plays the gang boss who has kidnapped Connie’s uncle. Connie goes undercover as a young tough and successfully gains his trust until the inevitable moment of revelation and betrayal. The intense relationship between them elevates the film above some of the other action quickies they made together.

Of course, the main reason to watch The Black Killer is none other than Connie. And in this film, that equals two reasons, since Connie plays both the brother and the sister who must rescue their uncle. Double roles are a favorite gimmick in Chinese cinema, going back at least to Twin Sisters (1933), which pioneered split-screen technology so that Shanghai movie queen Hu Die could play opposite herself. Since Connie had performed both male and female roles throughout her career, this dual role capitalized on her feminine and her masculine charm. The role gets even more convoluted later in the film when Connie the sister masquerades as Connie the brother and vice versa, a delirious predicament that delightfully explodes the boundaries of gender. In the end, there is only Connie, handsome and beautiful, tough yet tender. It’s no wonder that she was the idol of Chinese women during the rapid social changes of the 1960s.
Reviewer Score: 10