Last Hurrah For Chivalry

Last Hurrah For Chivalry (1979)
Tai Seng Video Marketing
Cast: Liu sung, Wei Pai
Extras: Theatrical Trailer, Filmographies

When thinking of John Woo, most people immediately have a predetermined image in their minds, of dazzling action movies with blazing guns and explosions, choreographed and staged to create an almost lyrical tragedy in the midst of all the mayhem. What most people don’t know is that before reinventing the modern action genre with "A Better Tomorrow," John woo was doing a number of "traditional" period action films, such as "Last Hurrah For Chivalry," a sword-fighting epic that is no less furious than many of his other films.

Kao’s wedding is a feast of splendor, but it is vehemently disrupted when his arch-enemy Pai suddenly makes his entrance. Pai had been waiting for this moment for a long time. The entire Kao family gathered in one room. With his hooded sword-wielding henchmen, he eradicates the entire family that night with the exception of Kao himself.

From this moment, Kao has only one thought. To seek vengeance for the death of his family and realizing that Pai is too much for him to handle, he decides to hire the best swordman in the country to solve the problem for him. Eventually he meets Chang, a young man with a reputation as a superb blademaster. Kao helps the impoverished young man and builds a friendship with him, so that he can use him for his plans and then sends Chang off to finish Pai. But it appears as if Kao has more on his mind than simply revenge…

"Last Hurrah For Chivalry" is a fairly traditional and formulaic sword fighting film the such Hong Kong has produced a great many. However, John Woo’s sense of dramatic visual choreography and explosive editing style is evident already in this film – elements that would later become his trademark. Although the story itself is developing very slowly and drags at many points, the countless sword fighting sequences are mesmerizing and absolutely amazing. Especially the climactic fights – each of them running for well over 5 minutes of man-to-man dueling – are masterfully executed. And yet, the story still holds many surprises for the viewer and Woo uses his duels carefully to build an increasingly tight dramatic arch.

The movie has a very naturalistic look with warm interiors and great outdoor shots of the lush Chinese landscape. Combined with the many crowd scenes, Woo creates a very distinctive feel for the film that perfectly matches the overall theme.

If I remember correctly, John Carpenter once quoted "Last Hurrah For Chivalry" as an influence for his Hong Kong homage "Big Trouble In Little China" and you will quickly realize that there are many elements and image compositions that have found their way into Carpenter’s action comedy. It also goes to show how influential even Woo’s earlier works were and looking at the film on this DVD lets us appreciate the craftsmanship that went in to this movie even more. It is certainly not perfect, but the choreography of the elaborately stages sword fights and the intelligent staging of events and character traits is simply superb.

Tai Seng Video Marketing is bringing us "Last Hurrah For Chivalry" as a direct import from Hong Kong. The film is presented in its original 2.35:1 <$PS,widescreen> aspect ratio in a transfer that is not <$16x9,enhanced for 16x9> television sets. Nonetheless, the image presented on this DVD is good-looking and offers a good level of detail. As with most Hong Kong imports, there are some blemishes in the transfer, but for the most part I was pleasantly surprised by the clean transfer offered on this release. Although inconsistent at times, the color reproduction of the movie is also well done, bringing us a naturally looking version of the film with strong colors that are free of noise or bleeding. Skin tones are naturally rendered, further adding to the movie’s natural look. Blacks are deep throughout with good shadow definition. Some <$pixelation,pixelation> is evident in the transfer at times but I never found it distracting from the actual movie. The action on the screen is so captivating and blistering that you simply have no time to pay attention to some of the light compression artifacts.

The DVD contains three separate language tracks. The first one is what seems to be the original Cantonese track. Presented in 5.1 <$DD,Dolby Digital>, this track has a very pleasing quality with a good frequency response and good dynamics. However, the surrounds are mostly dead, and only the stereo field is used quite effectively. The second track is a Dolby Digital 5.1 Mandarin track which to my surprise also features different music than the Cantonese track. This language track is also quite good, although a bit harsh-sounding in quality and with less transparence. Last up is a 5. channel Dolby Digital language track in English. You better forget it is there, really, because the quality is really quite poor. The dub is poorly synched up with the video and what’s even worse is, that the entire audio track is distorted from beginning to end. It’s not a big drawback since most fans will most likely watch the film in the Cantonese version anyway.

"Last Hurrah For Chivalry" is certainly not John Woo’s best film, but it clearly shows his signature coming through. If you want to se a slightly different side of John Woo’s extensive body of work, "Last Hurrah For Chivalry" is a great start that certainly won’t disappoint, especially since this DVD brings us a good looking version of the film in its full <$PS,widescreen> glory – and believe me with Woo’s image composition you do want to see the entire image! Give this disc a try and join this glorious last Hurrah for Chivalry.