Last Hurrah for Chivalry (1977) Review

"Last Hurrah for Chivalry" Chinese Theatrical Poster

"Last Hurrah for Chivalry" Chinese Theatrical Poster

Director: John Woo
Writer: John Woo
Producer: John Woo
Cast: Damian Lau, Wai Pai, Lau Kong, Lee Hoi San, Hsu Hsia, Fung Hak On, Chin Yuet Sang, Ngai Chau Wah, Cheng Lui, Huang Ha, Baan Yun Sang, Chan Dik Hak, Chan Siu Gai, Cheung Ging, Homer Cheung Hung Cheong, Johnny Cheung
Running Time: 107 min.

By Raging Gaijin

“Last Hurrah for Chivalry” has all the elements of a John Woo film: abundant use of slow motion, expertly choreographed action sequences, extreme blood-letting, and a strong theme of friendship. The only difference is, the heroes wield swords instead of guns. And, okay, there aren’t any flying doves – Woo hadn’t developed that particular fetish yet. But everything else is in place and this movie is all the better for it: “Last Hurray for Chivalry” is a John Woo movie for people who like John Woo movies. And with the swordplay and ancient Chinese setting, this is probably about as close as we’re going to get to a John Woo-directed Shaw Brothers film.

The story is a deceptively simple tale of revenge. A man is disgraced and left for dead on his wedding night and he slowly but surely assembles the means to claim vengeance. His closest allies in the upcoming battle also end up being his closest friends. “Last Hurrah for Chivalry” is a movie about men who are devoted to each other, to the point where they would willingly lay down their lives for one another. If you can’t handle that, you might not want to watch it. But you have to admit it has a lot more depth and emotion than your average American ‘buddy’ flick. One thing I’ve always appreciated about “The Killer” is that, beyond the ammo clips and bullet holes, it’s really just a movie about friendship. “Last Hurrah for Chivalry” is much the same way.

One reason I say the story is “deceptively simple” is because it gives way to many plot twists. There are more twists and turns to this movie than any other 70’s-era HK flick I can think of. Heroes become villains or become villains and turn back again, others fake their own death. At some point, it almost becomes *too* much. The film had me on a roller-coaster and kept flinging me in several different directions at once; one minute I was devastated by a particular turn of events, and then a few minutes later I was elated because they reversed themselves. Of course, it speaks volumes for “Last Hurrah for Chivalry” that I was so emotionally involved in it. I came to care about these characters and the conflicts that motivated them. It’s probably a good thing I was so involved too, as I didn’t have as much time to notice the cheap production design and props.

Another thing that distracted me from the low production values was the sword-fighting and martial arts battles. There’s plenty strewn throughout the entire movie and they are often long, complicated affairs with jaw-dropping choreography. This is truly some of the best sword-fighting ever put to film. Most of the characters are memorable so it makes the conflicts more engaging as well. Keep an eye out for the Sleeping Wizard, one of the coolest villains to appear in a Hong Kong flick. He’s at his best fighting ability when fast asleep; you wouldn’t think this would work onscreen but it does. Perhaps he’s a distant cousin to the Drunken Master?

All in all, if you love John Woo movies, chances are you’ll love “Last Hurrah for Chivalry”. The heroes may have traded their guns for swords but everything else is here. While it may not reach the emotional or visceral heights of “The Killer” or “Bullet in the Head”, this is jut as exciting and action-packed as the first two “A Better Tomorrows”. Highly recommended for fans of the director and anyone else looking for an old school epic with plenty of swordplay.

Raging Gaijin’s Rating: 7.5/10

By Numskull

If you think John Woo did nothing noteworthy before A Better Tomorrow, think again. Last Hurrah For Chivalry proves that John Woo movies aren’t about gunfire, they’re about action. And, in an age where all a movie needs to do is have one character throw a single punch to get filed under “action” by bleary-eyed video store clerks, this here, my friends, is the genuine article.

It goes like this. Kao is the scholarly son of a famous warrior who just wants to get married. So he finds a gal at the local whorehouse, buys her, and invites all of his friends over to celebrate the momentous occasion (isn’t true love a grand thing?). The party is crashed, however, by Pai, a bitter rival of Kao’s family, and the would-be groom is disgraced in his own home. A pair of loyal servants help him get the hell out of dodge and the revenge motive is solidified.

Now, here’s the problem. Kao is a nice guy…he treats his servants like friends and his enemies with respect…but he’s also a bit of a wuss. Hesitant to challenge Pai on his own, he begs his Yoda-type teacher to loan him a legendary sword and attempts to enlist the aid of Chang, a swordsman who is less concerned about upholding his reputation as a valiant fighter than he is with seeing his sister get married off and looking after his sick mom. Also figuring into the equation is Green, a hard-drinking assassin who can never seem to get paid; his (Green’s) nameless prostitute friend who has the hots for him something fierce; and Pray, another swordsman who just can’t wait to challenge Chang to a duel in order to prove his skills superior or die trying.

Relax, people…this is not a predecessor of Highlander. Despite the absence of black suits and white doves, this is a John Woo movie through and through. To reveal more of the plot would be criminal; just watch it.

Swordplay fans will just about come in their pants. No wires, no preposterous exchanges between combatants flying effortlessly through the air, no complete domination by one side of the conflict while the slack-jawed opposition just stands there and gets slaughtered like cattle, no cotton candy-colored blood leaking like water from a two-dollar garden hose. Just fast and furious sword fighting the way it oughta be, dammit!

The plentiful action has some great spots that’ll make you say “Hey, cool!” (including a guy getting stabbed in the ass!). If you can look past the occasional Superman-style attack, you’ll find lots to enjoy. The inevitable showdown between Chang and Pray is rock-solid, and the grand finale is a keeper as well. But the best of the action occurs between those two battles. In a sequence which screams “John Woo directed me, motherfucker!”, Chang and Green have a nice conversation in a lush garden with tranquil music accompanied by the sounds of gentle streams and waterfalls…and then they mount a head-on assault against Pai’s stronghold and butcher his 36 warrior servants. Ya ha ha!

Out two heroes fighting off wave upon wave of armed guards is to be expected, of course, but the fun doesn’t stop there. A very cool scene has Chang and Green, separated from their swords, in a bare-handed fight with two baddies within the confines of an iron cage which is just barely large enough to accomodate all four men.

Then, they must confront the crown jewel of Pai’s security force…the Famous Sleeping Wizard. He’s a guy who fights with a sword in each hand while fast asleep! Forget Drunken Kung Fu, it’s no match for Sleeping Swordplay. It’s like somthing out of an acid trip kung fu travesty, but it works splendidly, and the noises the wizard makes are hilarious. Cool music, too.

All of this is small (but tasty) potatoes, though, compared to the climactic battle in a room filled with dozens and dozens of lit candles (yeah, I know what you’re thinking). It may not be the longest or most technically sound fight scene, but in terms of sheer, grueling intensity, it’s beyond reproach. And let’s not forget those neat tricks, either.

The only faults I could find with this movie were some cheap-looking outdoor sets, repetitive “clangs” during the sword fights, and a very abrupt reminiscent of…well, actually, just about all HK action movies have abrupt endings. Never mind any of this, though. If you allow yourself to get distracted by the backgrounds or the sound effects during the fighting, then the whole movie is probably lost on you anyway.

A word to the wise before I sign off here, folks…if you get the DVD, do not, I repeat, DO NOT watch the theatrical trailer before the movie itself! In a mere two minutes, it gives away half of the damn film. Don’t read the description on the back of the package, either…it’s part spoiler and part bullshit (one of the plot points it “gives away” never actually happens!).

Last Hurrah For Chivalry isn’t perfect, but it’s a blast to watch if you’re half the HK movie fan you claim to be, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. You’ll probably accuse me of spewing shameless hyperbole, but dammit, it’s been ages since I’ve seen a movie half as enjoyable as this, and I’ll exaggerate as much as I fucking well please.

(Whip-cracking sound)

GO! Now!

Numskull’s Rating: 9/10

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One Response to Last Hurrah for Chivalry (1977) Review

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