Starring Siu-Lung Leung, Kuan Tai Chen, Teddy Robin Kwan, You-Nam Wong, J.J Jia, Wai-Man Chan, Jin Auyeung, Lo Meng (Turbo Law)
Fight Choreography by Yuen Tak
Directed by Kwok Chi-kin, Clement Sze-kit Cheng
After watching the dreadful Choy Lee Fut film, I began wondering what happened to Hong Kong martial arts cinema. With the exception of Donnie Yen it appears that kung-fu films that aren’t giant special effects wire harness spectaculars no longer exist in China. Yes, martial arts films are flourishing in other countries, but Chinese cinema, once known for the Shaw Brothers, Golden Harvest, Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan seems to have left films of that style behind. And here we have a film that reminds us of what kung-fu films used to be, and may never be again…
Gallants begins as the narrator introduces us to Cheung (You-Nam Wong) a clumsy office drone working for a real estate agency who has no prospects whatsoever. He’s unmotivated, no self-esteem, hated by everyone, and did I mention clumsy? After spilling coffee on his boss and being verbally abused by him Cheung is sent to settle a property dispute in a small village. Little does he know that the tea house in question is owned by two martial arts pupils Dragon (Kuan Tai Chen) and Tiger (Siu-Lung Leung) who converted their old dojo into a tea house while waiting for their Master Law (Kwan) to wake up from his thirty year coma. Rival Master Pong, who owns a modern day martial arts training facility, wants control of the dojo to expand his school, and one of his students, Mang (Auyeung) was an old childhood rival of Cheung. Things get even more complicated when Master Law awakens from his coma and, not realizing how much time has passed, mistakes Cheung for one of his pupils, and begins to train him and his real former students kung fu, so that they may enter a martial arts contest to win glory for the school, but it won’t be as easy as that…
Much of the film centers on the two old students, played to perfection by old Kung-Fu film stalwarts Siu-Lung Leung (Kung Fu Hustle, 10 Tigers of Shaolin) and Kuan Tai Chen (5 Deadly Venoms, Blood Brothers). They play the old men as still young inside, but at the point where age has taken much of their skills away, but they can still kick a lot of ass and do, but the crux of their characters is the devotion they show Master Law, by remaining with him for all of these years as opposed to going out and getting lives of their own. Teddy Robin Kwan is great as Master Law, a master whom, despite his penchant for wooing women and remembering what time period he’s living in, still has the pulse of his students and has one last lesson to teach them about life as a kung-fu fighter. Lo Meng (5 Deadly Venoms, The Kid with the Golden Arm) really brings out the old school flavor as Jade Kirin, the main thug of the film. You’ll recognize his boss Master Pang (Wai-Man Chan, who played Tiger in Project A2). All of the old men are veterans of the Shaw Brothers and Jackie Chan-era HK films, and for good reason. The scenes involving Cheung aren’t that interesting, as he becomes a better person, but we never really see how, nor are we told enough about his backstory. He’s merely a go-between for the audience into this world where old school kung-fu fights never really disappeared.
The fights are great, even better when you remember that the men fighting are old guys in their sixties and seventies. My favorite fight is the second fight between Tiger and Jade Kirin. The fight choreography is fantastic as both men show speed and power despite their ages. The group fights that Dragon gets into are also well done, and all of them evoke a time and fight choreography that has been given over to the Tony Jaa’s of the world.
So what does Gallants really say about this? Perhaps it’s saying that the time period has finally passed from China, just like westerns have for the States. You’ll see an occasional throwback film like Gallants, but as these men get older and pass away so too does those kinds of films. The baton has been picked up by other countries, but never again will an age like that come to China, which makes a film like Gallants all the more special.
(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best):
CHOREOGRAPHY: (9) Every fight was well done, and it was great to see such old kung fu veteran actors still able to pull the moves off. Evocative of both Jackie Chan fight choreography and that of the Shaw Brothers films.
STUNTWORK: (7) There aren’t too many stunts and they aren’t crazy ones, but what was there was done well.
STAR POWER: (9) Their stars may have faded, but these old veterans are still special to those of us who watch their films!
FINAL GRADE: (10) A great but bittersweet film that shows us what Hong Kong cinema used to be and may never be again, and gives us great performances across the board.