8 October 2007 | BrianDanaCamp
AMBITIOUS KUNG FU GIRL - delightful costume film from Shaw Bros.
AMBITIOUS KUNG FU GIRL (1981) is a charming, funny costume adventure that's based on a book by Ku Lung, but plays more as a parody of his famous "martial world" spectacles (THE MAGIC BLADE, CLANS OF INTRIGUE, LEGEND OF THE BAT, et al) than an actual kung fu saga itself, with a girl who dreams about a kung fu hero told in stories and then sets out to meet him, only to find the reality not quite as glamorous as she'd thought. The title character, Tian Si Si, is a girl of privilege who leaves home, after being betrothed to a local merchant's son, to seek out handsome hero Qing Ge, the subject of numerous illustrated stories her maid, Tian Xin, has told her and the love object of a crowd of women in a hilarious dream sequence which opens the film. Tian Si Si has all sorts of harrowing adventures on the road, but she keeps getting rescued by the real hero of the piece, her actual fiancé, whom she continues to snub. Through it all, she keeps her spirits up and never quite displays the disappointment that would normally result from the letdowns she experiences. Despite the title, the heroine is not really a fighter; when we see her "win" a bout in an early sequence, it's because her father paid her opponents to lose to her, PRODIGAL SON-style. Once out in the real world she quickly learns how little she knows and decides to let others do the fighting.
At one point early in the action, after she's been swindled of her valuables, she's unwittingly sold, along with her maid, to a brothel run by a transvestite. She escapes but is almost recaptured and escapes again thanks to the intervention of a one-eyed swordsman who gets from her an agreement to marry him if he saves her. When she balks at having to live up to the agreement and flees, the swordsman sets out, using all sorts of subterfuges and hidden confederates, to get her back and make her stick to the wedding plans, which turn out to serve a deeper nefarious plot cooked up by a band of clever criminal minds. Eventually, the bad guys kidnap the girl's wealthy father to make her cooperate. Through it all, her only real ally is the fiancé, Yang Fan, a handsome young man and skilled fighter who, fortunately, shows great patience with the headstrong girl.
A comic highlight of the film is the scene where Tian Si Si, thanks to the efforts of a sympathetic high-class prostitute, finally meets her hero, Qing Ge, to whom she blurts out, "I'm your biggest fan!" and watches as he enters a gambling match with a kung fu rival. (The match is played like a TV game show, one of many parodic comic touches that pop up in the film.) Romantic illusions die hard and it takes a set of outsized humiliations suffered by the man of her dreams for her to see what feet of clay he has.
Michelle Lai (aka Michelle Mee, aka Michelle Mei Suet, aka Mi Hsueh) plays the heroine and she's utterly delightful in a role that calls for her to remain wide-eyed, impetuous and stubbornly proud in the midst of all sorts of depredations and far-fetched goings-on. Without an actress to play it at just the right pitch and keep us anchored in some kind of believability, the film could have gotten very silly indeed. Miss Lai is also in TEN TIGERS OF SHAOLIN, also reviewed on this site, in which she has a significant role as the only female among the "Tigers" of the title, but this is the first time I've seen her in a starring role.
Kung fu star Chen Kuan Tai (BOXER FROM SHANTUNG) plays Qing Ge in more of a comic vein than we normally see himand quite an effective one, too--although he does have ample fight scenes. Yuen Tak, who plays the persistent fiancé, was a frequent kung fu player and went on to become a notable action director (THE LEGEND OF FONG SAI YUK). In addition to Miss Lai, other beautiful actresses in the film include Choh Seung Wan, who plays the renowed prostitute and a celebrity in the film almost equal to Qing Ge; Wong Mei Mei, who plays a devious fighting brothel manager; and Lam Sau Kwan, who plays the maid, Tian Xin.
Lu Chun Ku, who also directed HOLY FLAME OF THE MARTIAL WORLD, SECRET SERVICE OF THE IMPERIAL COURT, and THE LADY ASSASSIN, all also reviewed on this site, is known for his hyperactive style and the action scenes here certainly fit that description, although they're generally played to match the film's comic tone, minus the intensity of his later films. This director's "martial world" is quite a different place from that presented in Chor Yuen's series of Ku Lung adaptations, all of which take the conventions of that world far more seriously than do Lu's more pumped-up versions. In AMBITIOUS KUNG FU GIRL, Lu Chun Ku has clearly set out to have some fun with the genre and succeeds in sharing that fun with the audience.