Wednesday, June 13, 2012

In short: The Lady Constables (1978)

The fiendish men of the Black Wind Fortress steal a set of pearls known as the Night-Shining Pearls, slaughtering the escorts protecting them in the process. Because the Pearls belong to Prince Cheng (whoever he is), the bandits' leader, either called Coldwater or Coldstar Tiger (depending on if you believe the subtitles or the HKMDB), in any case played by Chang Yi, disbands the group; the Pearls are divided between Tiger and his four sub-chiefs.

Some time later, three heroes begin stalking the former Black Wind Fortress members. There's the (lady) constable Tien Ying Hung (Angela Mao being Angela Mao, which is more than enough for me) who is the straightforwardly temperamental type. Tang Lin (Chia Ling), a lady who is looking for vengeance for the murdered escorts. She likes to play with coffins and home-made torture devices and is something of a charming psychopath. Prince Cheng's bodyguard Hung Yi (Wong Goon-Hung) has his orders and doesn't like to talk, so he's only communicating via little pre-written scrolls which just happen to always have the right content - or so I assume, for the (of course often terrible and unreadable) subtitles don't bother with his messages, so I found myself bound to think whatever he's saying with them must be as supremely sarcastic as his face is unmoving.

The three don't really team up, instead opting for trying to outwit and outrace each other to the black fortress people whenever possible. In the end, one of the three always ends up torturing one of the Black Wind Fortress chiefs while the others come in a minute later, only for all three to get distracted by something and their victim to end up dead by unknown hands (oh, whoever might it be?). Yes, our heroes are torturers and idiots.

Still, how difficult can it be to work through a bunch of bad guys and get some pearls back?

I don't really know why Cheung San-Yee's Taiwanese wuxia is called "The Lady Constables", seeing as it does only contain one actual lady constable, but I have to say the slight loopiness of that fact fits the slight loopiness of everything else about the film well enough. Now, The Lady Constables is not a true piece of weird fu - it's just not weird enough for that - and rather a relatively straightforward wuxia film that can't completely escape the natural tendency of a film of its genre and its era to always drift toward strangeness. So while there's nothing even close to a scene of a little person riding a giant and spraying acid from his goitre, the film still has its weird moments, like Chia Ling's coffin fixation, that whole "I'm not mute, but I still only communicate with tiny scrolls that even have their own sound effect" business, the metal armours that look like metal space suits the bodyguards of one of the chiefs wear (and which are of course beaten with a big magnet), the other bodyguards whose kung fu is based on standing in a leg-up, or Coldstar Tiger's umbrella of doom. It's not mind-blowing stuff if you're used to Taiwanese wuxia madness, but it's imaginative enough to help the characteristically basic plot stay interesting; a sense of whimsy goes a long way.

Cheung San-Yee's direction is nothing special either: he really likes to zoom in and out and in and out, keeps everything in focus and the characters in the shot, and that's about it as far as his direction goes. It's serviceable enough, which is exactly the thing I'd say about the fight choreography too.

There's nothing to make me go "oooh!" about The Lady Constables, yet also nothing that's disappointing or boring.

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