|Last Hurrah For Chivalry (1979)|
|Starring:||Damian Lau, Pai Wei and Chiu-hua Wei|
|The Plot: Our film begins with the wedding of Kao, a rich and well respected martial artist who has recently found his wife within the local brothels. She was the most attractive girl in all of the stable, or so he claims, and Kao almost immediately decided to take her for his wife. When Pai, the evil ruling martial artist and most hated villain of Kao’s clan, shows up to ruin this wedding party, Kao learns just why it isn’t smart to marry a prostitute. The girl attempts to kill him at Pai’s request and the clan is left in disarray as many are carried off in body bags. Kao begins to heal but is told by his master that there is no way he could ever take on Pai in a one on one battle. With this in mind, Kao sets off to find a martial artist who could possibly take on this tyrant. He ultimately meets “Magic Sword” Chang (Wei Pai), who has vowed to stop fighting and instead spends his time nursing his poor sick mother. Kao begins to show ulterior motives as he introduces himself to Chang but keeps his plot for revenge hidden from the master swordsman. Chang, who is a bit naive despite his macho behavior, takes Kao to be a trusting friend and begins to help this stranger after he shows courtesy in visiting Chang’s sick mother. Kao eventually sets Chang up by meeting with a local fighter, who Kao has paid to attack his own clan in an attempt to lure Chang out of retirement. His idea is that Chan will attempt to kill the man who hurt his friend’s clan, and Kao then points the finger at the evil Pai so that Chang will do his dirty work. Chang soon teams up with a local assassin named Green, who shares a kindred sentimental attitude, and the two will have to fight against this evil ruling clan but what will they do about Kao and his evil behavior?|
I find it interesting how at this stage in his career, the reverence John Woo had for Chang Cheh is so present throughout the film. The slow motion, which he would later popularize, was certainly a staple of Chang Cheh’s work. Woo would go on to use it in a much more dramatic fashion than Cheh normally did, and that is expertly demonstrated in this film. As the melodrama begins to peak throughout the film, with questions of brotherhood and loyalty always at a boil, we see the fermentation of John Woo as a filmmaker and yet we see a loyalty and appreciation for his former mentor. The music, the slow motion and the melodrama come in intervals and sting the audience at just the right moments; fully engaging them with the film in the process. I am also reminded of Chang Cheh and Ni Kuang’s work with other martial arts cult classics, such as Return of the Five Deadly Venoms (AKA: Mortal Combat, Crippled Avengers) where we once again saw a martial artist who’s family had been killed, and in the process of searching out vengeance became a villain himself. While the ties are loose, at their very best, I couldn’t help but think of that previously mentioned film while watching things unravel because it is such a unique plot device and is so uncommon in every other form of dramatic storytelling. Naturally, when someone has something bad happen to them, you want to see them become better through that horrible action. You don’t imagine them becoming evil, themselves. This slight twist in the psychology of the film is partly what makes it such an alluring and engaging piece of Kung Fu cinema.
The fight choreography is spectacular throughout. I am not sure who helped get the choreography down, but they did a fantastic job. I am usually not overly excited about swordsmanship within the martial arts genre, but the way the film mixes up the aesthetics and the well played choreography of the main cast really leaves the movie looking good. Yes, even with all of the interesting plot developments and twisting of narrative – this is still an action movie at heart and it delivers, with gusto!