Uncle Jasper reviews: Gallants (2010)

Gallants [打擂台] (2010)
AKA Tiger & Dragon Reloaded

Starring Chen Kwan-Tai, Bruce Leung, Teddy Robin Kwan, Wong Yau-Nam, JJ Jia, M.C. Jin, Susan Shaw Yin-Yin, Lo Meng

Directed By Derek Kwok, Clement Cheng


My interest in Gallants was initially piqued after hearing that it marked the big-screen return of Shaw Brothers veterans Chen Kwan-Tai and Lo Meng. Then after learning that ex-Bruce Lee clone Bruce Leung starred alongside as well, nothing short of a ShamWow™ could mop up my steady stream of drooling anticipation. It was an instant sell. After finally getting a chance to see it, the novelty of seeing all of my favorite old-school kung fu heroes together again pales in comparison to the fantastic inspiration and brilliant testament to the fighting spirit that this film delivers. I am in love with Hong Kong cinema again and all I want to do is run outside and jump-kick garbage cans for the next three hours.

Equal parts Rocky, The Karate Kid, and Cocoon, Gallants is as inspirational as these films yet manages to remain a loving product of its homeland. Anybody with even a vague interest in the martial arts will be glued to the screen here, and old school Shaw Brothers fans are especially in for a treat. But what Gallants has to say is transcendent of simple setting and surface visuals. Yes this is a film about the martial arts and the perseverance of the fighting spirit. But even more so, this film deals with everything from courage, redemption, dignity in old age, to the convenient and flashy repackaging of honored philosophies in order to make a quick buck. The rewards that can be reaped from this film are virtually endless. You can cram a theater full of viewers into a screening of Gallants and nearly every person could take away something a little different.

The film begins with Cheung, a scrawny loser caught in a shit real estate job who gets constantly bullied by his coworkers and is sent, without pay, to settle a land dispute in a rural village. He fares no better when he arrives at the village and ends up being bullied by a gang of thugs before being bailed out by the mysterious Tiger (Bruce Leung). Enamored with the skill and courage of the old man, he tracks him down to a kung fu school turned teahouse ran by himself, his friend Dragon (Chen Kwan-Tai), and their young assistant Kwai (J.J. Jia). Cheung, tired of the constant bullying, begs for kung fu lessons from the old men to no avail. It turns out that Tiger and Dragon’s true concerns lie elsewhere. They have been tending to their master, Sifu Law (Teddy Robin), who has been in a coma for the past 30 years after fighting in a legendary kung fu duel. When he finally awakens, he mistakes the young Cheung for his former pupils and along with the old men, vows to restore his kung fu school to its former glory and subjects his ragtag group of students to his harsh training methods.

In concept this film succeeds on nearly every level. Bruce Leung and Chen Kwan-Tai still have that magic, and every time they explode into action on-screen I literally wanted to spring to my feet and cheer them on. Yet, these guys are clearly getting on in their years. Bruce Leung is not the springy, young mummy-fighting Bruce Lee clone he was in The Dragon Lives Again… his character limps along with a bum leg, gasps for breath after a fight, and has to slather on the healing ointment every evening. Chen Kwan-Tai fares a little better, but even his bones are a little more brittle and sore for wear after defending his teahouse from a gang of greedy thugs. Teddy Robin, who is probably more well known for composing film scores (including the fantastic score of Gallants) than for his acting career, is show-stealing here as Sifu Law, he has the swagger of a Dolemite and the homespun wisdom of a Mr. Miyagi. Initially I felt that he was a hard sell as a seasoned kung fu master, but his infectious presence and hilarious performance prevails, pretty much making martial arts skill a moot point. After watching him on-screen here I can imagine no better leader to round out this downtrodden kung fu school of has-beens and misfits. Just watching him drive these old bastards on while munching on a watermelon under an umbrella instantly echoed back to every old man training scene I have ever seen in my history of kung fu movies.

Rounding out the cast is Deadly Venom, Lo Meng (who seems to have taken on the new name, Turbo Law in recent years) who plays the bad guy’s token old dude. Sadly he doesn’t get to do much acting-wise, and his only function is to mainly play foil to Chen Kwan-Tai and reunite the two Shaw Bros. legends in a couple of fantastic (albeit brief) fight scenes.

Nods to old school kung fu fans are sprinkled throughout. The opening credits faithfully duplicate the old Golden Harvest / Lo Wei-directed Bruce Lee movies, complete with the film’s own spin on the Fist of Fury title song. It makes for an instantly classic opening, and is probably one of the coolest things I have ever seen recreated on film. You also get plenty of old-fashioned snap-zooms and the introduction text that accompanies the actors as they make their first appearances on-screen. Although these are sure to bring wistful smiles to the faces of longtime fans, the film is not held back by these brief lapses into nostalgia.

Eventually it all comes together in the end… For any of those stubborn naysayers, Gallants transcends simple homage, novelty-casting, or whatever you want to label it as when it finally draws to a close. The final scene is a beautiful marriage of action, acting, homage, and message, and will leave you with an indelible feeling of inspiration and courage. I loved this movie. Even the moments that were dragged-on or played merely for laughs brought a smile to my face. Hell, even M.C. Jin’s silly-ass rap song at the end made me happy.

It is a wonderful thing to see old legends whose time has seemingly come and gone rise once again to the occasion. Given the chance to shine one more time, they prove that they still have the spirit that made them endearing for so many years. This film is not only a testament to them, but it’s a testament to that ideal.

Author’s Note – If you’ve seen Gallants and want to familiarize yourself with the extensive history of films from its two lead actors, I suggest you check out my previous reviews of Chen Kwan-Tai in Heroes Two and Bruce Leung (as Bruce Leong) in The Dragon Lives Again!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fL5s0nNsphU

9 comments to Uncle Jasper reviews: Gallants (2010)

  • Wow man, I just want to echo everything you said about this movie. It was flat-out awesome and a perfect embodiment of what the fighting spirit is all about. It works on so many levels. All I could think about during it was how I wanted to buy a wooden man to train on. Great casting, it’s so awesome to see these guys in action again, and still just as bad ass! I thought there was no way this could live up to all of the hype we had for it, but it totally exceeded my expectations. An absolute must see for any martial arts fan.

    • Uncle Jasper

      Yeah! Isn’t this a great film to choose to get back into HK movies? I actually ended up watching it again the following evening and was just as moved. I really liked the disparity between the ultra-modern kickboxing gym and the old, dirty, and well worn kung fu school. In fact, everything in this film seems to effortlessly reinforce it’s main themes. Seeing these guys up on the screen again was a major treat. Between this and Kung Fu Hustle I’d even dare to say that Bruce Leung has actually improved on-screen in terms of martial arts ability in recent years, and what a performance! I cannot believe that this is the same guy who was cracking Bruce Lee dick jokes and fighting James Bond clones 30-odd years ago.

      • Yeah this is the ultimate movie to get back in HK movies with. The differences between the two gyms made me think of the HK film industry as well, as I’m sure was intended with the casting. I never saw Kung Fu Hustle, was it any good?

        Dude, Bruce Leung was amazing in this. That first fight of his is one of my favorites in the film.

        • Uncle Jasper

          Yeah, Kung Fu Hustle was great! Usually I’m pretty hit or miss on Stephen Chow… some of his stuff is hilarious, but more often than not it just seems to fall flat. Luckily KFH seems to be heavy on the wacky physical gags, which are pretty good… and the action was fun. There is some CG, but it’s tolerable. Bruce Leung is the villain in it, oh and Yuen Wah is in it too! I haven’t seen him since the Jackie Chan golden era of the 80’s.

          Gallants is the superior film hands down. But if you’re hungry for more semi-recent Bruce Leung stuff, you can’t go wrong with KFH.

  • dangerous meredith

    You have sold me and I will definitely try to see this film. Thanks for the euphoric and, as always, beautifully written review

    • Uncle Jasper

      As a martial arts fan, you’re gonna love this. The action alone is great, but thematically this film soars. Thanks for the kind words!

  • dangerous meredith

    Actually, I find watching older, veteran performers to be very very interesting, especially when it comes to movement based stuff. I love how they bring their life experience and their refined understanding of their art to bear on the roles they play and the actions they perform.

    BTW I have seen Kung Fu Hustle a couple of times (own the DVD as a matter of fact) and enjoy it very much

    • Uncle Jasper

      I agree… And they don’t come more experienced than Chen Kuan-Tai. As far as I know, he was one of only a handful of Shaw Bros actors who actually had an extensive history in the martial arts before signing a contract with the studio, most other actors (including many of my favorites) were actually trained on the premesis.

      I wish I was more familiar with Bruce Leung’s training background though. I don’t know how seasoned of a fighter he was before the acting bug bit him. If his early films are any indication, I’m gonna assume that most of his training came afterwards.

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