Lady of the Law
(NU BU KUAI) 1969

Director: Shen Chiang

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

Lady of the LawA child is tied between horses in order to convince chief Jiao to turn over the transport cart. Instead, Jiao Tienhau is mortally wounded leaping forth to save his son by main force. The transport cart was lost & the reputation of Jiao's "Yun Tong Escort Service" was lost along with his life.

As he is dying, he gives instructions that the Yun Tong escort "scriptures" be used for instruction to the little boy, who must study the martial methods in order to grow up & rebuild the Yun Tong escort fame.

Novice viewers of wuxia may find the commonly translation "Escort Service" unintentionally comical since whoever in Hong Kong started using this phrase in subtitles obviously didn't know that in America it would indicate an arm of the sex trade.

Fans of the genre have just gotten used to it, as the theme of the ruined Escort Service is a commonplace to wuxia. It refers to a company that can transport goods or people cross-country so that their clients can rest assured without fear of banditry.

They're not just bodyguards & transport companies because the company owner can be a virtual governor of a town, or the chief of gangsters, as the company amounts to a veritable private army either in service of good or service of evil.

Even those escort services that do not interfer with local government can have an equivalent of governmental power within the "societies" that are cells within what these films call jiang-hu or "the martial world." The Martial World is a fictionalized version of the sorts of family tong & secret societies that historically served the same blend of noble & criminal purposes as the does the cinematic "martial world" concept.

So to have such a company's reputation destroyed can ruin them not only financially when no longer trusted to deliver goods or individuals safely, but the loss of standing in the martial world is tantamount to exile or humiliation. So even if one's daddy hadn't also been murdered, such a downfall would call for revenge.

Lady of the LawLady of the Law (Nu bu kuai, 1969) tells a simple story a little clunkilly. The tale embraces two hoary cliches at once, the orphaned child who a couple decades later avenges the family, who is simultaneously the heir of an Escort Service that went out of business after losing one of its big accounts & its reputation to bandits who were in the service of a rival escort service.

Madame White Brows & her young ward Leng Ru-shuang -- a tough six year old girl whom the Taoist nun is raising to be a great martial artist -- wants her sifu to take the little boy under her wing & help train him too. Although Madame White Brows does not take him in, she becomes his advocate, so that he will not be abused as an orphan.

The presence of Madame White Brows & Leng Ru-shuang does not turn out to be consequential to the little boy's treatment. He's taken in by the rival escort service & denied access to his father's company scriptures, & is treated as a servant.

The boy grows up to be skilled at Flaming Daggers technique & other martial techniques, but only because he lingers, in his servant role, at the fringes of his employer's school of secret arts, & afterwards alone practices the leaping & flying techniques such make the action scenes of so much wuxia hoky.

As played by Lo Lieh, Jiao Yaner is a furtive well meaning young man without support of family or clan, so easily made the fall-guy for the rape & murder of Youlan, the concubine of a wealthy lord's of a nearby valley.

Chief Chen, the local governor, knows full well it's his own two sons who are the fiends, but makes great pretence of helping find the malefactors. Jiao Yaner is framed to protect the governor's sons.

The girl raised by White Brows the Taoist nun has grown up to be "the Lady of the Law" (Shih Szu of such classics as The Lady Hermit & The Young Avenger) using her great skills to apprehend felons. When Yaner escapes local custody, it is up to her to bring him back.

Lady of the LawThe story hasn't been terribly well focused. The to-do made about the martial scriptures has no real pay-off or importance, & the idea that Yaner could become a great martial artist without without actually having an instructor seems a bit thin.

Also the patronage of Madame White Brows doesn't seem to have helped Yaner as a child or as a young man so was a partly pointless characer introduction. Re-establishing his father's escort company is not at issue, & even the ease by which Yaner is framed as a rapist-murderer is too facile.

And now very soon we are going to learn that the murder victim was a member of a women's martial society, though this seems to have been an afterthought for the scriptwriter who didn't go back & change the earlier scenes wherein she is an easy victim.

Blossom Valley is the stronghold of a sect of martial women, through which Yaner, on the run, must pass on his way to Meng County, where a witness who can clear his name has gone into seclusion after being blinded by the governor's rapist-murderer sons.

On the night of the crime, one of the scoundrels threw lye in Officer Yan Bixan's face, but he would recognize the voice. So blind Yan (Shen Chan) becomes an "ear witness" to the actual rapists.

Yaner is captured in the valley of women, whose numbers include Bitao the sister in green & Peony the sister in red, color coding being their primary character differentiation. These women are all the martial concubines of the Valley Chief, & Youlan, the woman raped & murdered, was one of this sisterhood.

Lady of the LawThe chief of Blossom Valley has an obvious fetish for swordswomen & has collected more than a hundred of them as his main army. Obviously one chief with so many concubines couldn't possibly pleasure all of them, so they have this tendency to capture men on the sly, so their master won't know.

With all the weaknesses of the tale, the worst is how the Lady of the Law is so easily fooled by actual felons & does no real investigation of her own. She just pursues Yaner & insults him whenever they have encounters.

His side of the story has no consequence & the idea of checking for credible clues at the trumped up crime scene never occurred to her. So she's a crummy character. And it's up to Yaner to clear himself against stacked odds.

It takes way too long but eventually Leng Ru-shuang smartens up in time to fight on the side of good in the climactic mass swordplay.

The choreography involves far too much hoky wire-fu for Shih Szu's scenes, who sometimes seems to be sliding through the air on a clothes-line. These foolish looking stunts undermine her very real physicality, rather than heightening the effect of her fighting skills.

Lady of the LawPlus the clang-clang-clang of sword bashing renders the soundscape for the fights monotonous & unconvincing.

The swordswoman fetishist wanted to "collect" Leng Ru-shuang for his soldierly harem, & she is forced to fight him for her liberty. She's much stronger than he is but she spares his life, until he cheatingly attacks her from behind after the issue is settled.

But all's well that ends well. All those flashing swords killed surprisingly few people. Blind Yan clears Yaner's name, the evil brothers get their come-uppance, & Yaner can now turn the tables on Leng Ru-shang by pursuing her since oh yeah though it went unmentioned until the end but he's in love.

For all its weaknesses, Shih Szu is as beautiful as ever, & Lo Lieh ain't bad either. They deserved a better script but they did all they could with the material at hand.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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