Leung King-cheung is a downtrodden, spineless no-hoper who thinks his career as a real estate agent has hit rock bottom...until he is sent by his exasperated boss to negotiate a property takeover in a remote village. His job becomes even more problematic when the deal aggravates a long-running feud between two martial arts masters, and to make matters worse his skills at both negotiation and self-defence are woefully lacking. In the ensuing chaos one of the old fighters, Law Sun, unexpectedly awakens from a thirty-year coma and discovers to his horror that his school has been turned into a teahouse and so sets about trying to regain his reputation. Filled with admiration for the Kung Fu skills of Dragon and Tiger, Law’s two loyal apprentices, Leung decides to join them in settling the dispute through a martial arts tournament.
Even if martial arts is not a film genre you’re particularly familiar with (I must admit I’m one of those people), Gallants gets two crucial things right within its opening minutes: it’s a solidly choreographed action movie but it’s also one heck of a lot of fun. Chen Kuan-tai and Leung Siu-lung are veterans of the Hong Kong movie industry and are therefore perfectly cast as the middle-aged yet impressively experienced Dragon and Tiger; Susan Shaw lends maternal gravitas as doctor Fun; and Teddy Robin steals practically every scene he appears in as Master Law.
The principal cast is therefore comprised mainly of more experienced talent, which reflects the film’s emphasis on old versus new; particularly interesting since we’re at a time when so many of the surviving household names are either moving away from martial arts movies or retiring from cinema altogether. In that sense, Gallants is a tribute to old favourites but is also a poignant examination of what it means to grow old and see the younger generation take centre stage. It also pays playful and affectionate homage to the classics of yesteryear so fans of those films will be right at home here.
The combat in Gallants does not feature any wirework, obvious CGI or modern gimmicks either: it feels physical, down-to-earth and, well, real. Occasionally key moments of the fights are rendered in retro-styled comic-style artwork but overall the fights look thoroughly old-school and convincing. Even the opening credits sequence feels like some 60s or 70s Kung Fu flick with its colourful silhouettes and visual graininess to evoke the vibe of a bygone era.
The camaraderie between Tiger and Dragon never fails to raise a smile and Wong You-nam plays up the weedy estate agent to great effect with his goofy slapstick, but the best comedic moments for me came from Robin’s turn as the ageing Law. He wakes up as a confused and bemused geriatric but soon regains his wits and reverts to his old self: a hilarious mix of strict, focused martial arts master and shamelessly charming ladies’ man. The fact that he’s both a well-respected teacher and a recuperating widower means that his companions let him say and do things that a lesser (and younger!) man would never get away with.
In terms of edge-of-your-seat action and good-natured laughs, Gallants delivers; plot-wise it also has enough going in its favour. There’s a minor romantic sub-plot between Cheung and J. J. Jia as butt-kicking heroine Kwai (whose back-story is fleshed out in more of that delightful sketchy animation), but the core of the story is that of the older members of the cast, and perhaps surprisingly it’s no worse for that. Directors Derek Kwok and Clement Chang have pulled off an unlikely feat here: they’ve made an exciting and heart warming action-comedy about old people.
The setup of old masters having one last try at the prize before it’s too late, not to mention the sight of the underdogs standing firm and fighting against the odds, are well-worn but that doesn’t detract from the fact that it’s still hugely entertaining to see it all play out with such aplomb. I suspect that staying true to the formula is part and parcel of what this film is trying to say, and as a result it would seem unfair to hold that against it. Simply put, I was having too much fun to care about originality: it deliberately makes nods to the old-school classics with solid action while showing enough warmth and humour to stand on its own.
Virtually nothing to speak of here: just a trailer and that’s all. It would have been interesting to have some interviews or biography features, especially considering the pedigree of the principal cast and crew members. The feature is presented in its original Cantonese with English subtitles.
An up-to-date take on classic Hong Kong martial arts flicks that combines action and comedy to exhilarating and hilarious effect.