Last Hurrah for Chivalry / Hand of Death: Two Films by John Woo (Blu-ray — 2019)

Arriving for the first time on Blu-ray in the UK, (releasing on 24th June) an essential pair of early films from one of the greatest action directors of all time, presented in a 2-disc set taken from brand new 2K restorations, courtesy of Eureka Entertainment! Starring Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, James Tien, Pai Wei and Damian Lau.

Trailer

Cast: Last Hurrah for Chivalry

Damian Lau stars as the assassin “Tsing Yi”. A popular television actor, Lau made his big screen debut in “Last Hurrah for Chivalry”. He would go on to appear in classics such as “Duel to the Death”, “Heroic Trio”, “New Legend of Shaolin” and “My Father is a Hero/The Enforcer”. Wei Pai plays “Chang San”. In a long career he appeared in many popular kung fu films including “The Five Venoms”, “The Young Master”, “Return to the 36th Chamber”, “Magnificent Butcher” and “The Prodigal Son”. Popular ATV actress Bonnie Ngai Chau-Wah star as “Sau Sau”, a courtesan who’s enamoured with Chang San. TVB actor Lau Kong plays “Kao Pang”. At the age of 12, Kong moved to Taiwan to study Peking Opera. Returning to Hong Kong in 1966, Lau worked as a martial arts instructor and joined Shaw Brothers mainly working in voice dubbing before acting.

Lee Hoi Sang appears as the villain “Pak Chung Tong”. Hoi Sang Lee is best known for his roles in “The 36th Chamber of Shaolin”, “Shaolin Challenges Ninja”, “The Incredible Kung Fu Master”, “The Young Master”, “The Prodigal Son”, “Project A”, “Shaolin and Wu Tang” and “Disciples of the 36th Chamber”, to name but a few. Prolific martial arts action actor Fung Hak-on stars as “Pray/Let It Be”. Fung Hak-on, has appeared or performed stunts in classic movies ranging from “The Boxer from Shantung”, and “Iron Fisted Monk”, through to “The Young Master”, “Magnificent Butcher”, “Police Story” and “Kung Fu Hustle”.

Cast: Hand Of Death

Hand of Death” became notable in later years for giving early leading roles to action superstars Jackie Chan as “Tan Feng” and Sammo Hung as “Officer Tu Ching”, although they are not the main stars.

One of the 1970’s movie stars noted for his high-kicking skills, Doran Tan Tao-liang stars as “Yun Fei”. Nicknamed “Flash Legs” he also taught martial arts to such notable students as John Liu, Yuen Biao and Shannon Lee! Veteran of the Bruce Lee movies “The Big Boss” and “Fist of Fury“, James Tien stars as “Shih Shao-Feng”. Yeung Wai plays “Zorro/The Wanderer”. Having featured in small roles in many of Golden Harvest‘s early films, he would go on to appear in films such as “Iron Fisted Monk”, “Enter the Fat Dragon”, “Warriors Two” and “Hitman in the Hand of Buddha“.

Plot

Last Hurrah For Chivalry (1979)

The wedding party of Kao Pang, a respected martial artist is gate-crashed by Pak Chang Tong, the evil ruling martial artist and most hated villain of Kao’s clan. The bride-to-be attempts to kill Kao having been bribed by Pak. As Kao recovers from his injuries he is informed by his master that there is no way he could ever take on Pak in a one-on-one battle. Kao engages the services of Tsing Yi and Chang San, two master swordsman, but does not reveal his plans for revenge. As the swordsmen encounter Pak Chang Tong’s gang, loyalties and truths are tested and revealed!

Hand Of Death (1976)

During the Qing Dynasty, Shih Shao-Feng, a deadly warlord, is intent on ridding China of Shaolin martial artists. At a remote training camp a group of Shaolin students train together, with their best student Yun Fei given the task of taking down Shih Shao-Feng, ending his reign of terror. On his travels he befriends a blacksmith named Tan Feng, a blacksmith who also happens to be a skilled martial artist. Having escaped from a confrontation with Shih Shao-Feng and his bodyguards, Yun Fei and Tan befriend two people along the way. One of them is a brilliant swordsman who has never drawn his sword after he accidentally killed the love of his life. The men decide to unite in order to defeat Shih Shao-Feng. With their battle plans laid and the heroes trained, they prepare themselves for the battle ahead.

Action

Last Hurrah for Chivalry

A rousing theme song plays over partially animated credits of a wuxia novel. The opening fight is a mass brawl featuring various traditional weapons. Although the choreography looks very dated, even for 1979, there is a wonderful Chinese operatic style to it. Apparently John Woo filmed in this style as a tribute to his mentor, the legendary director Chang Cheh. There are some of the subsequent “street fights” that include more practical, less dramatic hand-to-hand kung fu techniques.

With the introduction of action legend Fung Hark On, the pace of the fighting is upped considerably. Woo films in long, wide takes with the camera continually tracking the action. There are key moments in the action punctuated with slow motion, something that would become a signature style for Woo in his later movies. The broadsword duel between Fung Hark On and Wei Pai has some exceptionally fine choreography and moments that could almost have been directed by Sergio Leone. The action-packed finale features some breathtaking, operatic and acrobatic swordplay interspersed with chivalrous and humorous banter from our heroes and villains, as well as numerous plot twists.

Hand of Death

Shih Shao-Feng’s soldiers attack the Shaolin Temple and such notable stars as James Tien and a buck-toothed Sammo Hung spring into action. The choreography is much more in the style of early 1970’s Shaw Brothers movies, rather than the hard and fast action of Sammo’s later movies. The action improves a notch as Yun Fei demonstrates his fighting skills during the opening credits. He does some nice spinning kicks and is adept with swords or wooden poles.

Perhaps more a sign of 1970’s “exploitation” there is what you might call an “erotic” scene in a brothel. It preludes a fist fight with Yun Fei which has tragic consequences for him. There is an intricate fight in Shih Shao-Feng’s courtyard that features a young Yuen Wah. However the action remains very much in the mould of the time with kung fu techniques performed in a staccato rhythm.

There are the obligatory training sequences that would become so common in the period kung fu films of the 1970’s. I particularly liked the use of a swinging bamboo pole to train evasions and Chin Na counter attacks! There is also an impressive destruction of dangling watermelons with some high roundhouse and spinning kicks. Much like in Woo’s celebrated masterpiece “Red Cliff”, our heroes use deception to initiate their assault on the court of Shih Shao-Feng.

This also marks the first bit of decent action that Jackie Chan is involved in. He wields a spear with speed, precision and grace, using more traditional techniques rather than the flashy acrobatic juggling that would define his later movies. Even so you can see there is something a little different and special about the way that Jackie moves. The same applies to Sammo Hung who has a fluidity and power that no one else in his fight scenes quite possesses.

The finale features some great, straight sword techniques used in the correct context against the villain’s spears. The final fight with James Tien is set in some stunningly filmed countryside. There are little flourishes of Woo’s stylish cinematography with some great, wide-framed, unbroken takes. There are even a couple of small moments that are not unlike his work on the finale of Tom Cruise’s Hollywood blockbuster Mission: Impossible 2.

Summary

Both films touch on themes of brotherhood, loyalty, betrayal, revenge and heroic sacrifice, something director John Woo would return to again and again in his 1980’s classics. In fact it wouldn’t have been too much of a stretch for him to set these films in pre-1997 handover Hong Kong and replace the swords with Berettas.

In terms of plots and performances, there is something that just seems just a little more polished than many of the other wuxia films of the same era. The plot lines and consequences seem to matter as much to Woo as the action does. “Last Hurrah for Chivalry” has all the sentiment and humour of a classic wuxia tale, but is acted out and filmed with real style.

Whereas other films released around the same time such as “The Prodigal Son” or “Knockabout” were revolutionising period kung fu choreography, this movie paid attention to the dramatic story and dialogue. Again something that would elevate many of Woo’s later Hong Kong action movies.

Last Hurrah for Chivalry” is also absolutely packed to the brim with fights. Barely 5 minutes passes throughout its 107 minute running time before someone kicks off! In “Hand of Death”, the young Sammo actually gives a very mature acting performance as an arrogant court official. Although it is little more than a guest starring role, a very young-looking Jackie Chan also delivers a good acting performance and is actually much less melodramatic than you might expect him to be in one of his very early roles. In terms of fight choreography and cinematography by John Woo, “Last Hurrah for Chivalry” is a big step forward from “Hand of Death”, and you can see the genesis of the auteur that John Woo would become.

Both films are exquisite to look at with the 2K restorations looking and sounding as sharp as ever. The colours of the period costumes, sets and locations are bold and bright, as are the sounds of clashing swords and rousing musical scores. Extras include brand new and insightful audio commentaries on both “Last Hurrah for Chivalry” and “Hand of Death” by martial arts cinema authority Mike Leeder, as well as a couple of interesting archival interviews with director John Woo.

If you like old-school wuxia action these are two of the most stylishly made examples of the genre. They also serve as a fascinating insight into the pre-action legend careers of two of Hong Kong’s most influential filmmakers; John Woo and Jackie Chan.

This is yet another essential purchase for every kung fu fan’s collection from Eureka’s ever-expanding library.

Trivia

  • Director John Woo along with Jackie Chan’s fellow members of the “Seven Little Fortunes”, Yuen Biao and Yuen Wah, all have cameos in “Hand of Death”.
  • Wai Pak who plays “Chang San” and Lau Kong who plays “Kao Pang” in “Last Hurrah for Chivalry” had brief cameo roles in director John Woo’s acclaimed action movie “Hard Boiled”.
  • According to his book “I Am Jackie Chan”, Chan was knocked unconscious when he performed one of the stunts in “Hand of Death”.
  • “Hand of Death” being an early film in all their careers, Jackie Chan is credited as Chen Yuan-Lung, Sammo Hung as Hung Chin-Pao and writer and director John Woo as Wu Yu Sheng.

Favourite Quotes

  • “If your heart is consumed by vengeance, your wounds will only worsen.”
  • “If I had a blade in my hand, you would have to accept one’s fate.” – Cheung San
  • “To be strongly governed by your emotions is a fatal weakness.”
  • “In this world, true friends do exist.”
  • “Men who beg are not heroes. They’re cowards.” – Yun Fei

Film Rating: 8/10

Last Hurrah for Chivalry / Hand of Death: Two Films by John Woo is out on Blu-ray from 24th June 2019 courtesy of Eureka Classics, and also via Amazon! STAY TUNED TO KUNG FU KINGDOM THIS WEEK FOR YOUR CHANCE TO WIN YOUR COPY COURTESY OF EUREKA ENTERTAINMENT!

Have you enjoyed these newly restored classics? Which other old-school wuxia films or John Woo thrillers would you like to see receive the same treatment? Are you excited about the soon Blu-ray releases of “Magnificent Butcher”, “Eastern Condors” and “Iron Fisted Monk”? Let us know in the comments below; Like, share and join in the conversation on Facebook and follow us on Twitter & Instagram. Meantime, keep up your warrior chivalry by stepping into the FUniverse, check out these Top 10’s, get your official KFK merch and subscribe for more videos on YouTube!

Influenced by the movies of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, Glen began training in martial arts and gymnastics in 1995. He made his first of many visits to Malaysia and Singapore in 1998 to learn Chin Woo kung fu under the supervision of Master Teng Wie Yoo. Glen is the author of "The Art of Coaching" and "Fearless The Story of Chin Woo Kung Fu", and runs a kung fu & kickboxing school in Hertfordshire, England.

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