Saturday, February 6, 2010

Li Ching in Ambush

A decent mix of wuxia and Western elements, 1973's Ambush is a solid action pic from director Ho Meng Hua.

After a pre-credits scene of a caravan being dispatched from a kingdom with escort by Wai Yuen Security forces, we are then treated to an exciting battle -- complete with limbs being severed! -- as the villains played by Yeung Chi Hing and Wong Hap attack the caravan in an attempt to steal the cargo: a crate of jewels.

Constable Wan (Chao Hsuing) enters the scene -- with a surprise appearance by Pigsy himself, Paang Paang, as his sidekick -- and is quickly framed for the caravan robbery.

After fleeing for his life after fighting with his own former compatriots, Constable Wan takes refuge in an inn where he is nearly poisoned. He confronts Han Chung (Chan Shen) for details.

Seems Fan Zhi Long (Yeung Chi Hing) of Zhen Bei Security Bureau is spreading the news that Constable Wan robbed the caravan.

Constable Wan confronts Chief Fan where he also runs into old flame Chian Niang (Liang Ching), now the wife of Chief Fan! She attempts to seduce the visiting Constable Wan -- there are nude scenes with what is clearly a body double -- but he rebuffs her advances.

And did I mention that the constable's cousin (Li Ching) overhears some of this as well? Turns out she's not only the cousin to Constable Wan, she's also the daughter of Chief Fan.

In the course of the evening, Chief Fan is murdered and -- surprise, surprise -- Constable Wan is framed for that too!

There's a nice little battle scene in the night -- Chao Hsuing leaping over opponents using the lily pads in the pool, kicking roof tiles into the faces of his grounded foes -- and a bit of backwards film run forward to suggest his leaps into the air and preparations for escape -- very 1970s but still fun.

Wan is arrested after a day-for-night-shot battle scene by his former colleagues and hogtied and then put on the rack only to be rescued by a mysterious hooded warrior.

The warrior turns out to be "the cold-faced swordsman" Hong Lieh (Dean Shek).

Shortly thereafter, Li Ching overhears the real thieves and meets up again with Constable Wan. There's more fighting and eventually Li Ching is locked in the mausoleum of Chief Fan with his corpse. She is menaced by what appears to be his ghost -- or is he a zombie?

As forces on both sides regroup, it appears that it's really Constable Wan's father who is being framed for that robbery.

And, by my estimation, the film's action -- at least in the first hour or so -- has all taken place in one 24-hour period.

In an exciting, blue-skied morning sequence, Constable Wan and an unhooded Hong Lieh attack the Three Tigers fortress, crossing a long bridge to reach the enclave which sits over the water in a harbour.

You know, this is exactly why I love the Shaw films! I'm not saying that Ambush is a masterpiece but it moves fast and it delivers. Sure, the fighting scenes are formulaic -- I've seen these swordfighting moves a hundred times by now! -- but it's still fun and it's still more interesting to me than most of the heroic bloodshed Chang Cheh would earn fanboy fame for.

The Three Tigers don't appear to be the culprits and so the two heroes set out on their way only to be menaced by a new hooded warrior.

Without giving away the plot, let's just say that the action gives way to a bit of a mystery with Li Ching being menaced by a ghost (?) and then an exciting conclusion as Chao Hsuing fights the villain on a windmill -- hanging on the blades of the windmill as it carries him upside down to fight his opponent!

I was pleasantly surprised by Ambush. And while I'm disappointed that it's yet another Li Ching film where she is underused -- it is a 1970s film after all and she was doomed to looking scared and fleeing in her 1970s flicks for a spell -- I did enjoy the film thoroughly. Chao Hsuing is not an obvious leading man but he has some gravitas to his screen persona due to his age.

Director Ho Meng Hua also directed the "Journey to the West" series for the Shaw studios, as well as loads of other interesting titles.

You can order Ambush on DVD here.