Last Hurrah For Chivalry (1979)

Written, produced & directed by: John Woo
Starring: Damian Lau, Wai Pai, Lau Kong, Fung Hark On, Lee Hoi Sang & Chin Yuet Sang

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It's not often that your reviewer tries to compose rows and rows of thoughts on old school martial arts. Not because the interest isn't there but I have to say I'm still a novice when it comes to this genre and era of Hong Kong filmmaking. I AM a fan of John Woo's work though so therefore I obviously want to examine what he contributed to the genre. He had directed a handful of martial arts movies prior (most famous being Hand Of Death with Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung) and judging by reactions from fans Last Hurrah For Chivalry is a generally liked effort. After this Woo took a break from action and returned with guns instead of swords. The rest you know...

Kao (Lau Kong from City On Fire) is ambushed on his wedding night by rival Pai (Lee Hoi Sang from The Magnificent Butcher). Kao gets wounded but manages to escape and now begin to plot his revenge. He realizes that he himself won't be able to take on Pai so he starts looking for swordsmen who can. Kao chooses famous Ching (Wai Pai from Prodigal Son) that after a personal tragedy still decides to take on the task in exchange for payment. Another swordsmen, Green (Damian Lau from Duel To The Death), also volunteers and together the two take on Pai's hordes of warriors...

This Golden Harvest production has many of the now established trademarks of John Woo and is every bit as good looking as a Shaw Brother's production. On top of that it has probably the most fight action I've ever seen in a 70s old school movie. Best part though, it doesn't get boring for one minute.

Starting with the actual storytelling, it actually gets more room than expected in this fight-fest. It isn't repetitive as such but you can make a case that the main characters here have dynamic similar to the ones in The Killer. The friendship and the way they're fighting side by side evokes those thoughts. A not so deep storyline still gets a bit more depth through Woo's no rush attitude to the opening 30 minutes.

Woo clearly has a strong vision that he would later fine-tune to greatness in his gunplay films. Despite familiar themes such as loyalty and brotherhood, the overall storytelling is rough around the edges. For instance the love interest that the swordsmen share never really gets expanded on. There was an opportunity there but Woo never explores it fully. Last Hurrah For Chivalry is well-shot however and Woo tries to constantly vary the look of his film. Not plain at all but quite stylish at points and the pace is good because of it. When Hong Kong directors discovered the zoom they started using the crap out of it and these rapid fire zooms were a definite staple of martial arts cinema. Woo utilizes it but brings the speed of it down, making it less sudden and atmospheric instead.

Primarily it's a serious film sometimes borderlining on cheesy and Woo, like many others, also find time for comedy. Actually, he stays away from the broadest kind and these relatively few moments scores a little higher on the amusing scale. Especially Chin Yuet Sang's (director of Hocus Pocus and had a role in Woo's Heroes Shed No Tears) cameo as the Sleeping Swordsman is choreographed in a fun way with good timing from the participants involved. It ultimately is too silly for the movie but we like it. The final 20 minutes contains some twists in the story but Woo holds our interest up until the final reel without confusing us. If it had been a Wuxia adaptation we probably would've had 10 more characters and an equal amount of plot twists.

The main draw for this decently plotted affair is of course the fights and what an relentless assault it is. Primarily swordplay is on display but glimpses of hand to hand-combat makes it's way into the action. The action choreographer is Fung Hark On (fan favourite and has a small role in the movie as well) and given that the movie has many, many, many set pieces it's impressive that he finds ways to vary the action. The weaponry isn't varied but by using different and creative settings, the action comes off as pretty exciting. Wai Pai and Damian Lau's own abilities greatly helps and watching long takes of intricate choreography is today something we greatly miss. Ironically enough Fung Hark On's own scenes ranks as the highlights, especially his big scene with Wai Pai where there's some good moments of slow-motion also. Lee Hoi San is a pleasure to watch as the fighting villain and that same year he did the role he's now famous for in The Magnificent Butcher (directed by Yuen Woo-Ping). Damian Lau and Wai Pai are good together as a fighting duo and at the same time do decent work when acting is called upon. We come to care about these two characters friendship and that elevates the movie. Their skills as fighters are also undeniably real and besides them it's quite cool to watch many favourite faces directed by John Woo.

Last Hurrah For Chivalry is highly recommended viewing. When the fights start they rarely let up and the movie is fun to watch even if you're not familiar with the running themes of director John Woo.

The DVD:

Deltamac's dvd replaces Megastar's previous edition on the market. The 2.35:1 transfer looks quite solid. Colours are a little dull but the transfer is reasonably sharp. Print damage there is surprisingly little of considering the age of the film. Night scenes are a little too dark though and that goes for a few day shots as well.

The Cantonese 2.0 mono track features traits heard in these old tracks, mainly distortion. That is by no means intrusive and it works well overall. A Mandarin 2.0 dub is also included. Hong Kong cinema had switched to Cantonese as the language of cinema by this point so that is the track you should choose.

The English subtitles were a major surprise. I didn't detect one error and overall it seemed very well translated. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles are also selectable. Only extra is the theatrical trailer that also features footage from Hand Of Death.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson