Having mastered kung fu from his cave-dwelling teacher, Meng Fei (Kenny Ho) is sent into the wide world to “defend the poor and uphold justice.” So naturally when Meng spies the beautiful Li Sai Nan (Kara Hui Ying-Hung) being harassed by red pyjama-clad warriors working for the evil Thunder Gang, he intervenes. Only his heroism earns him a slap in the face! Turns out Sai Nan is super skilled at kung fu but wants to be kidnapped so she can infiltrate the gang’s headquarters. Years ago Chief Leng Tian Lei (Lung Tien-Hsiang) killed her parents and stole their precious “Ju Xian Force” kung fu manual. Now Sai Nan wants revenge. Together, Meng Fei and Sai Nan discover Leng is kidnapping girls because he lost his own daughter that fateful night and has since learned Master Ling Han Feng (Chen Kuan-Tai) of the heroic Dragon Sect raised the infant as his own. That girl is Mu Wan Er (Rosamund Kwan in an early role long before she became one of the biggest Hong Kong film stars of the Nineties), a lovely, sweet natured swordswoman whom Meng Fei met earlier and was instantly smitten. When her true identity is exposed all hell breaks loose.
Chinese wu xia (“swordplay”) novels were noted for taking satirical jibes at some of the more hypocritical notions prevalent in their native culture. These questioning attitudes were equally present in some of the better movies they spawned. Long Road to Gallantry rightfully skewers the antiquated idea that the sins of the father are borne by his offspring. As soon as Mu Wan Er’s true parentage comes to light she is expelled from the Dragon Sect. Even Mu’s adopted father refuses to defend her and presumably her lifetime of good deeds count for nothing! The film gains added layers of complexity in its third act where filial duty (very important in Chinese culture) clashes with moral conscience. Chief Leng tries to persuade Mu Wan Er to turn on her friends. Meanwhile, Sai Nan’s vengeful uncle (Jason Pai Pao) urges her to kill Mu, even though the two women have grown to respect one another. Caught in the middle is Meng Fei, charmingly played by Kenny Ho as a happy-go-lucky hero whose naivety is both his weakness and greatest asset. Both women are in love with the lucky guy. His desire to do right by each leads to an attempt at a peaceful resolution, only the elders will not let their feud die. A fatal showdown seems tragically inevitable although things do take a turn for the surreal when one crazed villain is attacked by living statues.
Long Road to Gallantry was one of only two films written and directed by action choreographer Lung Yi-Sheng. On the strength of this and his completely bonkers children’s film Demon of the Lute (1983), he should have made more. Born in Vietnam, Lung was a martial arts aficionado since childhood and came to specialize in the “Praying Mantis Fist.” Upon moving to Hong Kong he joined the film industry as a stuntman and actor but was quickly promoted to choreographer. Lung worked on some amazing films, including The Sword (1980), Ambitious Kung Fu Girl (1981), Buddha’s Palm (1982), each of which runs on the same demented energy as his directorial efforts.
A great cast spearheaded by Shaw Brothers’ kung fu queen Kara Hui Ying Hung, whose acting talent matches her martial arts prowess, latch onto their roles with great gusto. Lung Yi-Sheng laces the breakneck action with wit and ingenuity while the scrappy relationship between Meng and Sai Nan is well drawn. They squabble like a couple of kids (at one point Sai Nan chucks a lizard down Meng’s pants while he is flirting with Mu Wan Er) which makes the abrupt shift into outright tragedy a gut-wrenching surprise.