If you love stylish ’60s spy visuals, beautiful women, mod fashions, spectacular underground lairs, and goofy gadgets, then most probably, you’ll love Angel with the Iron Fists from Shaw Brothers Studios. However if you want a plot that goes somewhere and realistic fight scenes, then this film may be a bit of a let down for you.
The story is about a evil criminal organisation called the ‘Dark Angels’ and it seems that they have a vast criminal network that spreads all across the world — but their headquarters are in Hong Kong. The Dark Angels seem to have a hand in all sorts of nefarious activities from diamond smuggling to drug trafficking, with a little bit of murder thrown into the mix. As the story develops there is a vague plot thread about the creation of a new ‘super-drug’ that gives the user energy and more importantly, keeps you looking young, with which they plan to control the drug market.
As the story opens, Agent 166 has infiltrated the Dark Angels and has important information to relate to HQ. Agent 166 is walking down a deserted street at night — he is nervous and edgy. Behind him, he hears footsteps and he begins to quicken his pace until he breaks into a sprint. The pursuer gives chase. Agent 166 makes it to a phone booth and proceeds to make a call. Then four cars pull up beside the booth and a gang of men from the Dark Angels pour out. With their pistols they pepper the phone booth with shots. Agent 166 dies and the gang collect a briefcase with information from beside his dead body.
After a sprightly animated title sequence which would be at home at the begining of a Spaghetti Western, the film returns at Hong Kong airport. The authorities are awaiting the new agent flying in from London, who will take over from Agent 166. But the good guys aren’t the only ones watching the arrivals. Members of the Dark Angels have the airport staked out too.
The agent arrives. He is tall good looking with dark glasses and carrying a suitcase. Yep, he looks like a spy all right. The authorities greet him and whisk him away — followed discretely by the Dark Angels of course. But this agent is just a decoy. The real agent is Ai Si (Lily Ho), Agent 009 and she arrives in Hong Kong unobserved. She catches a taxi — acompanied by music from Goldfinger — to her hotel.
Ai Si, or ‘Angel’ as I like to call her, is posing as the rich mistress to a gangster who is behind bars. She starts her investigation at the ‘Flying Horse Night Club’ where she meets her contact, Agent 403. 403’s cover is as an annoying drunk and he tries to hit onto Angel. Between loud drunken outbursts, 403 points Angel in the direction of two people in the club that evening. One is the star performer, Miss Dolly (played by the wicked Fanny Fan) and the other is a chap named Cheng Tiehu (Tang Ching). Both Dolly and Cheng are Dark Angel operatives, and once they believe that Angel is loaded with cash they set about swindling her out of her money. They do this for two reasons — firstly they are an evil organisation and they swindle people out of their money — and secondly, because they want Angel to join the gang. In her, they see a beautiful and able bodied gang member, little do they know that she is working undercover to bring them down.
The head of the Dark Angels is Mrs Jin (Tina Chin Fei) who apart from being evil, gets to wear a clinging white leather trouser suit through the film — but the highlight of her apparel is a set of gold, knee length boots — and as is befitting a spy film, these boots are also equipped with twin knives which she can kick underperforming underlings (think ‘high-fashion’ Rosa Klebb). Not to be out done, throughout the film, actress Lily Ho gets to display a wild selection of sixties fashions.
Another highlight from the film is the villains secret lair. It features an endless amount of tunnels and odd shaped passage ways, and as you’d expect, sliding doors and coloured lights. The main chamber itself could have been ripped from Thunderball (that is if Thunderball had been decked out in gaudy colours). There are chairs for each of the top Dark Angels operatives, and when it is discovered that one of the operatives is quilty of embezzling funds, she is quickly dispatched in quite a gruesome fashion — and naturally , her chair (and remains of her body) disappear beneath the floor.
The plot in Angel with the Iron Fists doesn’t really go anywhere. Sure, the Dark Angels are evil and need to be stopped, but they don’t really have a world changing evil plan. They are developing a drug, but that isn’t finished yet. Unlike a Bond film, there is no sense of jeopardy in the film. There is no threat of war, pending explosion or even a ‘beat the clock’ finale (despite the presence of some miniature time bombs). In the end, the story is more like a police or detective story than a spy film, only the sets, costumes and villains lair are on the scale of a big-budget spy film. But by the same token, I was very happy to let the visuals and the sounds — mostly stolen from John Barry’s Bond soundtracks — simply wash over me. I enjoyed the film, but also realise that it is not very good. But it must have been received well enough at the time because a follow-up was made called Angel Strikes Back, once again featuring Lily Ho as Agent 009. The sequel is possibly a bit tighter than this and is a better film. Still, if you watched everything else, why not give it a go!