Tuesday, October 6, 2009

In short: The Rescue (1971)

At the beginning of the Mongol Yuan dynasty rule in China, a group of rebels has put it in their minds to free the still loyal prime minister of the Sungs, Wen Tianxiang (Fang Mian) from imprisonment. After some struggles the group finds out that the Mongols are hiding the official in the Celestial Prison, which unfortunately does look more like a very earthly prison.

The rebels, among them their single female member, the young swordswoman Bai Yaerh (Shih Szu), decide that the best way to get Wen out is to get themselves thrown into the jail where some supporters will provide weaponry and keys. Also letting himself into the prison in this very natural way is Le Heru (Lo Lieh). This roguish expert fighter doesn't have heroically dying for his country in mind. Rather, he is using the traditional friendly stalker route trying to win Bai Yaerh's heart.

Le Heru still comes in handy when the plan goes awry and most of the rebels are killed. Thanks to his help, Bai Yaerh belongs to the handful of people who escape the prison with their lives.

Of course, the patriots can't let their project end this way.

The Rescue is a very typical historical Shaw Brothers wuxia. The word typical shouldn't be read as "not worthwhile", on the contrary, the typical (historical or not) Shaw Brothers wuxia of this phase of the studio's life was really a rather good film.

The production line method of filmmaking has a bad reputation (mostly among people who have never seen many films made this way), but in the case of the Shaw Brothers the production line mostly lead to a very solid technical base from which to work. So director San Kong had a solid professional cast, solid professional fight choreography, solid professional sets and so on, and so on. If it sounds as if I was trying to say that The Rescue is a lot like dozens of other Shaw Brothers films, then, well, yes I am in fact saying it. That however is not a bad thing, because I most probably liked these dozens of other films.

A few things here are a little different, though. First and foremost, Lo Lieh wasn't allowed to play heroic roles very often, and seems to relish the possibility. He also works nicely with Shih Szu, who herself is really good as the extremely competent swordswoman with the tendency to upperclass petulance. Besides the mandatory looking pretty, which was not much of a problem for her, she also seems to have done quite a bit of her fighting herself, and did it well, which not every Shaw heroine did or was allowed to do.

Some of the mass fights are also worth mentioning for their well developed sense of controlled chaos and proper use of the typical Shaw-colored blood.

Add to that the more low key way the film treats its mandatory patriotic speeches, a love for people in disguise, a choice misuse of "Also sprach Zarathustra" and a very undignified patriotic sacrificial death for one of the main characters, and you'll find me completely on the side of your film.


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