A Brighter Summer Day for the Lady Avengers

by: , February 6, 2024

My first encounter with Yang Chia-Yun’s Fēng Kuáng Nǚ Shā Xīng / The Lady Avenger (1982) was an uncanny experience. I was researching Italian giallo film when a vintage newspaper movie poster grabbed my attention. The advert depicted a sensational female vigilante that visually recalled Edwige Fenech in Tutti i colori del buio / All the Colors of the Dark (Sergio Martino, 1972), only this time it was an Asian woman’s face. Her alluring body was barely covered by a white sheet, and her lustrous black hair rested on her collarbones. Standing in a martial art squat stance, the way she holds a katana (Japanese sword) is reminiscent of Meiko Kaji in Shurayuki-hime / Lady Snowblood (Toshiya Fujita, 1973) and Uma Thurman in Kill Bill (Quentin Tarantino, 2003). I had found our lady avenger Wan-Ching, who was played by Hsiao-Feng Lu—the Taiwanese ‘sexy goddess’ of the 1980s, and Taiwanese pulp films.

Following WWII and lasting till almost the end of the Cold War, Taiwan’s martial law period (1949-1987) is one of the longest in modern history. During this period, the nationalist government implemented film censorship laws. However, in the five years from 1979 to 1983, more than 117 lowbrow, sensational films lured Taiwanese audiences to the big screens. Suffused with brutal violence and seductive female bodies, film historian Ting-Wu Cho termed these popular yet understudied films ‘Taiwan Pulp films’ to invoke connections between these lowbrow and cheaply produced films with the American pulp tradition (2018: 53). Yang Chia-Yun is the only female Taiwan Pulp film director, and has stated publicly that she managed to ‘smuggle’ her feminist awareness into her commercial films (Chen 2019). Her works are female-centric, and cover a wide range of genres: from nüxia-martial-arts fantasy, coming-of-age films, thrillers, female military and juvenile boot camp films, women’s revenge films, and a documentary about ‘the Taiwanese “comfort women,” the sexual slaves taken by the Imperial Japanese Army during WWII’ (Wu 2023: 178).

This video essay explores two specific female characters in Taiwan Pulp films and Taiwanese New Wave, respectively. I juxtapose the female protagonists in Yang’s The Lady Avenger, and in Edward Yang’s Gǔ Lǐng Jiē Shǎo Nián Shā Rén Shì Jiàn / A Brighter Summer Day (1991). Among other Taiwanese New Wave films, Brighter was internationally acclaimed for its realist aesthetic, long takes, and sympathetic portrayal of life. In the climax of Brighter, the female adolescent protagonist, Ming, is tragically murdered by a teenage boy Si’er. Ming is ‘punished’ by Si’er with a tantō—a short, sharp knife often used for seppuku (Japanese ritualistic suicide by disembowelment)—because Ming has had multiple affairs with boys in different gangs. In contrast, The Lady Avenger engages the rape-revenge trope, but with no nudity or sexual intercourse onscreen. Our female protagonist Wan-Ching carefully executes her revenge, eliminating rapists one at a time, while impressing her audiences with scanty, sometimes campy costumes, which she changes between each crime scene. She executes her well-planned revenge with a katana—a single-edged knife with curved blade, used by samurai in the battlefields—against the men who have wronged her. Wan-Ching’s creative acts of killings became episodic spectacles, but not without final ‘punishment’—she is handcuffed and jailed, restoring law and order.

As a Taiwanese graduate film student who studies horror and exploitation films, I was amused by how these ‘obscene’ films interrupt (or almost attack) my sanitized knowledge of Taiwanese film history. If we look at the etymological root of obscene, as Linda Williams reminds us, it literally means ‘off-stage’ (2019: 124). The true-crime reenactments and spectacular displays of sexual violence in Taiwan Pulp films were deemed ‘obscene’ by the nationalist government. In global film history, Taiwan Pulp films were rendered unwanted, an unpalatable history that has been kept off-scene. In Film History: An Introduction, the filmmaking in early 1980s Taiwan was labeled as ‘notorious for being either stultifyingly propagandistic or rudimentary, low-budget entertainment’ (Bordwell and Thompson 2010: 652), while the auteurism of the Taiwanese New Wave Cinema (1983-1989) has overshadowed Taiwan Pulp films on the international stage. For example, Edward Yang is understood to be a pioneer of Taiwanese New Wave cinema, and A Brighter Summer Day was recently digitally restored in 4K and admitted to the Criterion Collection. As such, Ming is killed for her promiscuity, yet she has international longevity, while Wan-Ching remains unrestored and without official distribution. With this video essay, I invite my audiences to contemplate a brighter summer day (and alternative endings) for both Ming and Wan-Ching, our lady avengers.


Cho, Ting-Wu (2018), ‘From Avengers to Desperate Wives: Women’s Movement, Taiwan Pulp, and the Transformation of Female Star Image (1979-1985)’, Journal of Art Studies, Vol. 23. (December), pp. 51-98.

Cho, Ting-Wu (2023), ‘Taiwan Pulp! The Emergence and Consumption of Taiwan Exploitation Film in the Trans-Asian Cultural Cold War (1970s-1980s)’, Ph. D thesis, New York University.

Chan, Hsuan-En (2019), ‘Analysis of Erotic Film Viewing (1968-1988): From Social, Cultural and Gender Perspective’, Master’s thesis, Kaohsiung Medical University, Taiwan.

Hung, Wei-Ting (2021), ‘All the Colors of Lady Avengers’, cinemedia, May, https://cinemedia.media/colors-lady-avengers/ (last accessed 26 July 2023).

Su, Chih-Heng (2022), ‘Nong zhang dian ying shi EP6: nüxing de Fuchou bu gai zhi shi shei de yan fu—yang jia yun daoyan yu ta de fengkuang e nü / Dirty Film History Episode 6: Woman’s Revenge is Not for the Eye—Yang Chia-Yun and Her Crazy, Bad Women’, BIOS Monthly, 3 April 2022, https://www.biosmonthly.com/article/11007?utm_source=Facebook&utm_medium=Social&utm_term=TheMediu (last accessed 26 July 2023).

Williams, Linda (2019), ‘Motion and E-motion: Lust and the “Frenzy of the Visible”’, Journal of Visual Culture, Vol. 18, No. 1, pp. 97-129.

Chen, Huei-Yin (2019), ‘Post-Screening Q&A with Yang Chia-Yun: Special Screening of The Lady Avenger’, 11 October 2019, https://www.wmw.org.tw/tw/title/506 (last accessed 26 July 2023).


Fēng Kuáng Nǚ Shā Xīng / The Lady Avenger (1989) dir. Yang Chia-Yun.

Gǔ Lǐng Jiē Shǎo Nián Shā Rén Shì Jiàn / A Brighter Summer Day (1991), assistant dir. Angelika Wang

Kill Bill (2003), editor Sally Menke.

Shurayuki-hime / Lady Snowblood (1973) no women listed as crew members.

Tutti i colori del buio / All the Colors of the Dark (1972), costume designer Giulia Mafai.

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