When most people think of a John Woo movie they usually conjure up images of Chow Yun-fat firing a pistol in each hand while jumping sideways across the screen. What most people do not consider is that despite it’s mediocre reviews when it first hit the screens in 1979, Last Hurrah for Chivalry is now considered one of the top Wuxia films of all times. Truly this is no boast as it deserves such high praise. I’d rate it up with Come Drink With Me, A Touch of Zen, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, and Dragon Inn (1967).
First off I’d like to complain about my old copy of the film, which I really must update. Even though it has the original Cantonese audio track, whoever did the subtitling must have thought a Western audience wouldn’t be able to keep up with Chinese names and it took using several websites and watching the film again to straighten out the names. Damian Lau’s character Tsing Yi is called Greeno the Instant Death in my version. Thus I start with another of my rants about proper subtitling for films that are sent for foreign distribution. I realise that exact translations can seem incomprehensible in another language so some writing skill is required but that shouldn’t give the person doing so free reign to get creative with someone else’s work. Even if they do give Tsing Yi the nickname of ‘Greeno the Instant Death’ it’s quiet obvious once you piece it together that Cheung Sam is calling him by his name, not his nick name. This is something I missed in my previous times watching the film because I was paying attention to the subtitles and the screen more than I was the audio of the film.
The film revolves around themes of betrayal, revenge and the love of comrades-in-arms (not in a homo-erotic kind of way). Many reviewers have complained about the slow start of the film however I found it enjoyable to be able to set up some background for the main characters allowing you to form opinions of them based on how they behave rather than just the action. The film starts out with the villain Pak Chong-tang attacking Ko Peng on his wedding day. Pak Chong-tang is a superb martial artist but he is also a bully who even beats on his own men. Although Ko Peng’s martial arts are quiet good he is injured and is unable to get revenge. He befriends Chung Sam ‘The Magic Sabre’ and asks him to take revenge for him. Also featured is the story of Tsing Yi nicknamed ‘Greeno the Instant Death’ a wine loving mercenary who will kill anyone for the right price.
The story revolves around these three characters and their inevitable duel with the vicious Pak Chong-tang and his many men. Including the 38 Ghosts, Coyote, Ghost, Rope of Death, The Sleeping Buddha, Twin Fans of Death and numerous toadies and yes men. There are many twists and turns throughout the film which makes it better than the common story of revenge. I personally feel that it’s mediocre reception had more to do with the industry being flooded with Martial Arts films throughout that decade than anything to do with the film itself. Much like the number of Superhero movies coming out today. My only big complaint is the amount of outdoor scenes shot in studio rather than in location.
Last Hurrah For Chivalry is definitely worth the 107 minutes to watch it. This is Damian Lau’s second film and he proves he can act as well as fight. Wai Pak is already an veteran actor by the time this film is released having stared in some real classics. Lau Kong shows a nice range of acting with his character while Lee Hoi-Sang is bottled into you stereotypical villain role. The action scenes are well choreographed and are kept fresh throughout the film though you don’t get a great sense of individual style between the actors.
Damian Lau (Zu: The Warriors from the Magic Mountain, Duel to the Death, Royal Tramp 1 & 2, 14 Blades ) as Tsing Yi, the wine loving mercenary without a care in the world
Lau Kong (Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils 1982, Royal Tramp, Green Snake) as Kao Pang / Ko Peng a man wronged on his wedding day by Pak Chung Tong
Lee Hoi-sang (The Spiritual Boxer, The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, The Magnificent Butcher) as Pak Chung Tong a master of martial arts, bully, who swore to get revenge on the Ko family.
Fung Hak-on (Prodigal Boxer, Five Shaolin Masters, The Sentimental Swordsman, Zu: The Warriors from the Magic Mountain) as Pray / Let It Be a cold hearted and arrogant swordsman.
Chin Yuet-sang (Executioners from Shaolin, The Prodigal Son, The 36th Chamber of Shaolin) as Sleeping Wizard/The Sleeping Buddha/Mad Sabre
Ngai Chau-wa as courtesan who loves Tsing Yi. I’ve not seen her in any other movie.
Trivia: Wai Pak is one of the original Venom Mob although he didn’t star in many Venom movies as he defected from Shaw Brothers to Golden Harvest to star in many films including Last Hurrah For Chivalry directed by Chang Cheh’s protégé John Woo
Trivia: The main character Tsing Yi is an inspiration taken from the real-life assassin Jing Ke, who is historically remembered for his failed assassination attempt of Qin Shi Huang.
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