24th Jul2011

‘Gallants’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Teddy Robin, Wong You Nam, Jia Xiao Chen, MC Jin, Li Hai Tao, Law Wing Cheong, Leung Siu Lung, Chan Koon Tai, Susan Shaw, Chan Wai Man, Li Ka, Turbo Law | Directed by Derek Kwok, Clement Cheng

When legendary kung fu master Law Sun (Teddy Robin) unexpectedly awakes from a 30-year coma he discovers that his once celebrated martial arts school has become a teahouse and is now under threat from a takeover bid by his former rival. Aided by his now middle-aged apprentices, Dragon (Chan Koon Tai) and Tiger (Leung Siu Lung), and an unlikely hero in the form of the nerdy estate agent tasked with progressing the takeover, Master Law sets about training a rag-tag band of fighters to compete in a forthcoming martial arts tournament. Winning the prize could safeguard all their futures, but anything less would mean a certain end for the both the school and for Master Law’s reputation.

Take one part Three Stooges, one part Rocky, and one part Shaw Brothers, mix them all up and you (almost) have Gallants. An homage to the classic kung-fu movies of old – and those stars of that generation, the film is essentially a classic 70s Shaw Brothers-style martial arts movie updated for a modern audience, with the same themes of honour, valor, heart and believing in yourself that mark both great martial arts movies and great Hollywood underdog films. And Gallants is both.

The cast are uniformally excellent with Chan Koon Tai and Leung Siu Lung stealing the show as Dragon and Tiger respectively. But even they pale next to Teddy Robin’s ridiculously OTT Master Law, whose philosophies on kung-fu are refreshing to say the least. There’s no “kung-fu as spiritual statement” from Law – nope for him it’s all about the fighting. If the acting is superb, then so are the martial arts on display.

As a reviewer I’ve watched martial arts movies by the bucketload, so now it takes a little bit more to impress. After all once you seen one slickly choreographed kung-fu fight you pretty much seen them all right? Wire-fu or no wire-fu the genre is undoubtedly becoming stale thanks to the huge number of films that get made and released each year – but Gallants is different… Infused with a hyper-realism, topped with some great animatics, the fight sequences are both stunning and hilarious – after all, what’s not funny about seeing two past-their-prime martial arts “students” fighting against much younger (and healthier) opponents and still kicking mucho ass.

I cannot praise Gallants enough -  filled with emotion, action and humour the film takes a warm, and at often times reverential, look back at martial arts movies of old without ever becoming a pastiche, and unlike other recent sombre cinematic efforts it puts the fun back into fighting.

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