THE LADY CONSTABLES: Historic pairing of two kung fu divas in less-than-historic film
Angela Mao (WHEN TAEKWONDO STRIKES) and Chia Ling (aka Judy Lee, from QUEEN BOXER) were the two greatest female kung fu stars of the 1970s. LADY CONSTABLES (1978) offers the only opportunity to see them co-star on screen together. (Chia Ling makes a cameo in Mao's SWIFT SHAOLIN BOXER, 1978, but I don't know if they share the screen there or not.) Unfortunately, they're not working here with the top-notch directors, fight choreographers and co-stars that Angela Mao had at Golden Harvest, but with a considerably lower-budgeted crew. Their only formidable co-star here is Chang Yi (EAGLE'S CLAW), who doesn't emerge as a full-fledged fighting opponent until the very end. It doesn't help that the poor-quality VHS edition in which this film was released in the U.S. is a badly-dubbed and severely-cropped pan-and-scan transfer.
However, as written and directed by Chang Hsin-Yi (KUNG FU COMMANDOS), the film actually provides its stars with an interesting plot and characterizations. The two ladies are both investigating the robbery of the "Five Shining Pearls" and the slaughter of the escorts carrying the pearls. Angela Mao plays the sheriff(!) of the town where the robbery took place and Chia Ling plays the niece of the slain chief escort. The male lead, a character named Hung Yi (played by Wang Kuan-Hsiung, from GREEN JADE STATUETTE), is the chief bodyguard for "the Prince" and his objective is not made clear until the end. His gimmick is that he refuses to talk and simply unveils little scrolls with appropriate messages inked on them when he wants to communicate. Not every message is translated for the English viewer. All three leads are pursuing the same villains and all engage in friendly and not-so-friendly rivalry, cooperating one minute and competing the next. There's a running gag involving coffins that are used to capture and bottle up each of the chief robbers. Whenever a fight ends, it results in the robber being caught by one of the good guys in a coffin and then shuttled off away from the others. A secret killer is at large who targets each of the prisoners and seeks to silence them before they can reveal any information about the whereabouts of the other gang members.
There are five "masters" being sought, one at a time, by the good guys. Three of the masters have their own groups of henchmen who fight when the hero/heroines have caught up with them. The third master puts up quite a fight with his crew of "iron men," fighters decked out in clunky armor and helmets. Hung Yi figures out how to combat them with a powerful magnet acquired from a local blacksmith. Angela's fighting gimmick involves rolls of colored fabric that she shoots out to bind and topple her opponents, going so far as to use the cloth to hang two men by their necks from a tree limb in one early encounter. Chia Ling's weapon is a metal baton that hides a blade. She's also the one who buys the coffins used to nab the robbers, thereby drawing the participation of the coffin-maker who follows the trio doggedly, ever hoping to drum up new business. There's also a beggar who constantly shows up looking for handouts.
There are 13 fight scenes, but they're all pretty short. The final fight is the longest (3 minutes and 24 sec.); the first fight is the shortest (20 seconds). Seven fights are under a minute. Only three fights are longer than 2 minutes. Judy and Angela fight each other once, but only for 24 seconds. An extended fight between the two would have made this film something truly special. The fights are generally well-staged, although there is too much reliance on flying leaps and mid-air somersaults. (Both actresses were skilled in this area, but I suspect they're doubled for the more elaborate acrobatic stunts.) The two actresses both plunge into the fighting with their customary vigor and fury and are always a joy to behold. Unfortunately, Chia Ling is only seen in five of the fights, while Angela is seen in seven. Wang Kuan-Hsiung is seen in eight. His movements are slower and broader and less interesting than those of the two ladies.
The VHS edition offers an 87-minute print. I don't know how long the original was. I would love to see this in a restored, letter-boxed edition in Mandarin with English subtitles.
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