Written by Fantasma el Rey
John Woo’s Last Hurrah For Chivalry is a tour de force of kung-fu swordplay that will have you on the edge of your seat. A roller coaster ride of a masterpiece. Simply riveting.
Now that all the played-out major press descriptions are out of my system let me tell you a quick thing or two about the film. Released in 1979, it is a well-spun tale of revenge and betrayal. Unlike many of this nature that simply use the kung-fu swordplay to mask a thin plot, Woo’s film has a story that twists like a reed in a tornado.
The plot has a lot to do with friendship and betrayal. A young baron, Kao, seeks revenge against a local warlord, Pai, for the destruction of his family’s land and lives. After being informed that true masters of the sword don’t accept payment, Kao enlist his “new friend” Chang the Magic Sword, to aid in his cause. They don’t call Chang “The Magic Sword” for nothing; he’s the best swordsman around. Along the way, Chang befriends the local heavy-drinking assassin known only as Green, who is also master with the sword. Together they agree to avenge the wrong done to Kao by Pai. The viewer finds out that Kao is the mastermind who uses people to his advantage and pits friend against friend, setting up one hell of a finale. People get killed all over the place while the suspense swirls around betrayal and the bonds of friendship.
The kung-fu sword action plays out like an arcade game with its many levels of bosses that our two young heroes must face before they get to Master Pai. I’m reminded of the video games Double Dragon and Kung-Fu and the action is just as good. We get to see many different villains, including a wandering swordsman trying to make a name for himself and a narcoleptic master swordsman, know as The Sleeping Wizard.
Chang and Green face off against countless ninjas while in Pai’s stronghold. There are ninjas everywhere, in trees, popping out of coffins and even rising from the ground like the living dead. (Yes, I know ninjas are Japanese but they’re in this picture and some historians suggest ties to China. And besides how can John Woo be wrong?) The fight with The Sleeping Wizard is a good idea but is a tad drawn out even though it is the first time our guys encounter a foe that they must defeat together.
The best is the fight with Master Pai. Surrounded by candles in what appears to be a dungeon, the two youngsters must use their wits as well as their weapons to beat this Guan Dao (a large broad sword attached to a long wooden poll) wielding fiend. Woo brings the candles into play wonderfully in this scene, mixing them right into the action. Another display of Woo’s genius is the final fight scene against Kao. After a long battle with blood all over the place and including the traditional Chinese flying master, it’s the final stroke that you want to keep your eyes open for.
Last Hurrah For Chivalry is a greatly entertaining film packed with awesome fight scenes. The film moves along at a good pace even if some these fight scenes are a bit overdrawn. Woo doesn’t need to hide his plot, it holds up on its own. Then again, part of the point in making this movie was the fighting, but Woo is able to bring something all his own to the table and makes a memorable, entertaining movie. The special collector’s edition contains some good interviews and a highly informative featurette on the legendary weapons china, hosted by Hong Kong Cinema expert Bey Logan. For fans of the more recent epics of China, such as House Of Flying Daggers, do yourself a favor and turn back the hands of time to revisit an early work by an action-film master.