Gallants (Cert 15)
1 Disc (Distributor: MVM Entertainment) Running time: 93 minutes
Nerdy and perpetually bullied real estate worker Cheung (You-Nam Wong) is sent to a remote village to oversee the take over of some property that is in the middle of a leasing dispute. The property in question is a teahouse run by two old men, Tiger (Leung Siu-Lung) and Dragon (Chen Kuan-Tai), which was formerly the reputable Gate of Law martial arts school of their Master, Law Sun (Teddy Robin Kwan) who has been in a coma for thirty years. Challenging for the lease is the long time rival of Master Law, Master Pong Ching (Chan Mai Wan) and his right hand man is the erstwhile victim of Cheung’s bullying games, Mang (MC Jin) who has become a top fighter in his own right and wants some payback. Unfortunately for Pong, Master Law finally awakens from his coma and sets his sights on the grand prize of a tournament that Pong is holding in order to keep the teahouse.
In an age of kinetic CGI reliant martial arts films with convoluted plots and hard to follow fight scenes, Gallants is a throwback to the golden age of Kung Fu cinema, with a simple story of an old rivalry and the perennial message of never giving up. To add authenticity to this homage of the “Shaw Brothers” style of Kung Fu films, arguably the most productive and imitated martial arts productions of the 70’s and 80’s, the senior stars of this film made their name during this fertile period, all of whom demonstrating with gusto that they can still go despite being north of 60 and show the younger fighters. In fact, this film is all about the old timers. It is easily forgiven to believe that the story relates the zero to hero journey of wimpy kid Cheung, or that the presence of obligatory totty Kwai (Jia Xiao Chen) on the DVD cover is also intrinsic to the plot; the truth is wildly different.
Cheung does undergo a change in demeanour and learns to kick ass with the best of them but his arrival to the teahouse is a mere conduit for the aging fighters Tiger and Dragon to step up to the plate and defend the honour of their master and their school. And after a brief display of her fighting skills upon her entrance, Kwai quietly reverts to ineffective near damsel in distress role, with any hint of possibly being Cheung’s love interest quickly swept under the carpet. Another potential romance between Master Law and Dr. Fun (an award winning turn from Susan Shaw) is also subtly hinted at but ultimately ignored. This is arguably the biggest weakness of the film as the story development slowly ebbs away into the background as the testosterone kicks in but then it wouldn’t be a true homage to the classic movies if it didn’t follow the formula to the letter.
The undisputed star of this vehicle is the diminutive Teddy Robin Kwan as the comatose Master Law, whose tremendously imposing on screen presence belies his 4ft 10” stature. Not only is he a comedic whirlwind but he gets to some major butt and score with the ladies while his juniors look on. When Law first awakes his memory is understandably off kilter and he mistakes beanpole Cheung for both Dragon and Tiger whilst failing to recognise his true pupils as they are now thirty years older and decides they need to be trained from scratch with Cheung aiding him! Master Law’s teaching methods are straight out of the school of Hard Knocks and while he may seem like a tyrannical little gremlin and his philosophies straight of the David Brent playbook, he does produce results as Cheung’s newly found backbone and the brutal beatings Dragon and Tiger dish out in their showcase fights show.
Co-Produced by Andy Lau (yes that Andy Lau) and co-directed by Derek Kwok and Clement Cheng, the nod to yesteryear doesn’t end with the psychedelic opening credits that accurately mimic the opening of old, or with the on screen graphics to introduce each new character and the other subtle “wink wink” references, but thankfully also in the presentation of the fights. Anyone tired of the frenetic and blurred hyperactive quick edit fight scenes and the ludicrous CGI assisted Matrix-style scraps that have blighted action films of the past fifteen years will be relieved to learn that this is a return to the close combat, wide shot punch ups that put Bruce, Jackie and Sammo – and the stars of this film – on the map back in the day. Even with modern camera techniques the action is resolutely rooted in the style of the “good old days” and thus a joy to watch.
For modern audiences a film starring a group of pensioners in an affectionate tribute to their glory years which references films they’ve probably never seen or heard of sounds like a hard sell – presumably why Jia Xiao Chen’s attractive features are more prominent on the DVD cover. But the spirited and balanced mix of irreverent humour and bone crunching fights presented with an inventive and modern twist is enough to win over viewers of any age.
Gallants is a fun packed, action filled blast that manages to be both nostalgic and contemporary, with tongues planted firmly in cheeks, hearts proudly worn on sleeves and butts well and truly kicked!
Ratings – Main feature ****/5
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