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  Last Hurrah for Chivalry Cut Down To Size
Year: 1978
Director: John Woo
Stars: Damian Lau, Pai Wei, Kong Lau, Hoi San Lee, Chau Wa Ngai, Kuo Sheng, Hark-On Fung
Genre: Martial Arts, HistoricalBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: It's the night before the wedding of young Master Ko (Kong Lau), but not everyone is sure that he is up to the high standards set by his father and when they discover that the bride is not born to a noble family but is in fact a prostitute Ko is saving, many have their doubts confirmed. Outside, the men of Pak (Hoi San Lee) assemble and when he enters he obviously has business to attend to. He is aggrieved that Ko and his family have taken, stolen he says, his land for themselves and to get his revenge he has paid the bride to stab Ko. The groom is taken completely by surprise, and soon his followers and his father are downed by the attackers, with Ko swearing his own revenge. But first he needs help, and once he's recovered from his wounds, he begins his search...

Hao Xia, or Last Hurrah for Chivalry as it was translated as, is notable today for being an early John Woo film, and the themes of his eighties and nineties favourites can be found in nascent form here. The strength of bonds between fighting men, men of violence, is what the plot is concerned with, but as this is one of the umpteen historical martial arts films hailing from Hong Kong in the seventies, there are no gun battles, although there is the equivalent of two friends pointing pistols at each other and tensely gazing into each others' eyes as the spectre of betrayal hovers. Only here, it's swords that are the weapons of choice.

Woo wrote the script for this effort, and it's so complicated it's as if he was keen to pack in as many of his ideas as possible, along with a wealth of characters who may or may not be on the same side. There's Cheung Sam (Pai Wei), a boisterous type who picks fights at the drop of a hat, but is troubled by the health of his ailing mother and a sister he wants to see married off so she won't become a spinster. Then there's Greeno (Damian Lau), a drunkard who just happens to be an expert swordsman, pretty much a stock character, although Lau finds sufficient depth in his portrayal to keep you guessing about whether he's following his heart or his bank account.

There's another swordsman on the scene, calling himself "Let It Be" (big Beatles fan, then? How would that work in practice, eh?) who it looks as if will be the big nemesis for Sam, but there's a big combat sequence between them in the middle that you might have thought would be better served at the end - little do you know how much mayhem Woo is going to pack into that last half. The plotting is so wrapped up in cross and double cross that in effect it breeds an uncertainty about who to trust, and for a while it looks unsteady on its feet rather than dazzling the viewer with twists. The swordsmanship is plentiful, and there is one novelty bit when one of the assailants' techniques is to fight while sleepwalking, examples like that ensuring the film is never boring. Unfortunately, it does become difficult to believe after a while although the message of not letting go of the, yes, chivalry of the past is appreciated.

[Hong Kong Legends' Region 2 DVD has a clip-filled featurette and trailers as extras.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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John Woo  (1946 - )

One of the most influential directors working in the modern action genre. Hong Kong-born Woo (real name Yusen Wu) spent a decade making production-line martial arts movies for the Shaw Brothers before his melodramatic action thriller A Better Tomorrow (1987) introduced a new style of hyper-realistic, often balletic gun violence.

It also marked Woo's first collaboration with leading man Chow-Yun Fat, who went on to appear in a further three tremendous cop/gangster thrillers for Woo - A Better Tomorrow II, The Killer and Hard Boiled. The success of these films in Hong Kong inspired dozens of similar films, many pretty good, but few with Woo's artistry or emphasis on characters as well as blazing action.

In 1993, Woo moved over to Hollywood, with predictably disappointing results. Face/Off was fun, but the likes of Broken Arrow, Windtalkers and Mission: Impossible 2 too often come across as well-directed, but nevertheless generic, studio product. Needs to work with Chow-Yun Fat again, although his return to Hong Kong with Red Cliff proved there was life in the old dog yet.

 
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