OK, I think I am caught up on the majority of things now, and whilst there are a couple that I am holding back in reserve, I think it is time to return to the list format, when deserved.
And boy does this next film deserve it.
“Gallants” is that most awkward of genres for me – the Hong Kong Action Comedy. In this case it is doubly difficult, as it is not only reliant on humour that I might not get, but also it is feeding directly on a period of Hong King Cinema that I am not completely au fait with – the 1970’s era of Shaw Bros. and Golden Harvest films. I am however, delighted to announce, that neither of these stopped me greatly enjoying this film.
Right, Synopsis time. Cheung (Wong You Nam) is a born loser (aside from being a childhood bully) who is sent as a punishment to a remote location to deal with some real estate issues for his work. He encounters two old martial artists, Dragon (Chen Kuan Tai) and Tiger (Leung Siu Lung) who have spent the last 30 years looking after their comatose master Law (Teddy Robin). Add into the mix a martial arts contest, a potential love interest (Xiao–chen Jia), a thousand other guest stars from the ages, a theme of the old versus the contemporary, some fun actions, and some honestly amusing jokes, and you have a winner.
Now one thing we have to remember that a lot of our cast are at least 60 years old, so the action is a little pared down, but it makes up for this by using a restrained style, coloured occasionally by some clever animated sequences. You never feel short changed though, you still feel these guys could probably kick your ass.
I do wonder if the real Martial Arts enthusiasts would be somewhat disappointed by this though, but for me the film is a winner because it allows plenty of time for the more heartfelt moments. It also takes some brave steps (and spoiler time here) – it deviates from the norm by NOT falling into the trap of showing a big Martial Arts competition, preferring to use it as a meta-commentary on the state of Martial Arts in modern times. It also deals rather sweetly with the death of one of the main characters in a mature way.
Even though I am not really that well versed in the age of cinema which the film is invoking, I still was able to “get” it – possibly the more subtle stuff was lost on me, but the use of character introductions was familiar enough to raise a smile (and in one circumstance a belly laugh).
Teddy Robin is the shining star, his moments on screen as the confused yet bawdy Master are a delight. If I have two small criticisms it is that Wong You Nam is not quite charismatic enough to carry the early part of the film, and indeed his story (including a a budding romance with a far too underused Xiao–chen Jia) seems to lose a little focus once Master Law awakes.
At the end of the day, this is a fun, feel-good movie, that although is drawing on the past, never tries to ape it. It lives on its own terms, and you would have to be cold-hearted indeed not to have a huge amount of fun.