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THE RESCUE Lots of action in Shaw Bros. tale of Song Dynasty rebels
THE RESCUE (1971) is a Hong Kong-produced martial arts adventure about a group of Song Dynasty loyalists opposing Tartar Rule in 13th century China. Their aim in the film is to rescue Prime Minister Wen (Fang Mien) from a Tartar prison and spirit him to safety in the south of China. The one female fighter in the group, Bai Yaerh (Shih Szu), attracts the attentions of Le Heru (Lo Lieh), a skilled knife fighter and all-around martial arts expert who begins tagging along with the group, less to serve any cause than to try and woo Miss Bai. When the loyalists manage to get themselves arrested and held in the same prison that's holding the Prime Minister, Le Heru gets himself arrested and sent there too, all so he can be close to Miss Bai, who's more concerned with freeing the P.M. and getting out of there. It's all for naught, however, when they discover what the audience knew all along--that the real P.M. had been moved and replaced with an impostor. So, it's back to square one for our intrepid heroes.
Bai Yaerh refuses Le Heru's entreaties and at one point, after she's severely wounded during a fight, finds herself bandaged and recuperating in the bedroom of a prostitute (Ling Ling) at the local brothel, having been tended to by Le Heru, who happens to be a regular client of the place. Every inch a proper girl, Miss Bai is aghast at the thought of being in a brothel and scandalized to the point of tears when she learns that, in bandaging her arm and leg wounds, Le Heru actually touched her! It's a funny scene and is extremely well-acted by Shih Szu.
A plot by the Tartars to infiltrate the loyalists leads to more complications, culminating in more fighting in the prison and the digging of an underground burrow into the Tartar general's compound. It's all a bit on the far-fetched side and the whole thing is just an excuse for one exciting sword and knife fight after another. The fights are bloodier than usual for this kind of film and occur quite regularly for much of the film's 79-minute running time. However, the action relies a lot on wirework, which is some of the least convincing I've ever seen, especially when Le Heru "flies" across courtyards and up prison walls with great ease, sometimes even when he's carrying Miss Bai!
Still, it's a collection of fun scenes with some solid supporting performers on hand, including Bolo Yeung (ENTER THE DRAGON) as a Tartar officer whose weakness for women gets him into trouble and Chan Shen (SHAOLIN INTRUDERS) as a more ruthless Tartar leader. But it's Lo Lieh and Shih Szu who not only dominate the action scenes, but offer abundant charm as well, showing off a side of Lieh we didn't often see. They make a cute fighting couple and it's nice to see some romance develop when a fighting femme is involved. Again, it's not the best Shaw Bros. swordplay film we've seen, but is certainly an entertaining one, and it gives us a chance to see Shih Szu, one of the Shaw studio's unjustly unsung female fighting stars, in a lead role.
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