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April 11, 2011 | by  | in Film |
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It’s not a stretch to call Gallants a 90-minute love letter to 1970s Hong Kong martial arts films. Directors Clement Cheng and Derek Kwok have loaded the cast with old Shaw Brothers stars and crafted around them a tale that stays faithful to both the structure and the spirit of those movies. Here, martial arts aren’t a means to an end—they are the end, and the self-realisation and honour that one gains through fighting with gusto is the prize. It’s an approach that’s seen a revitalisation of sorts in latter-day Hong Kong action cinema, with blockbusters like Ip Man and Bruce Lee My Brother emphasising these values, and Gallants is the logical conclusion of it, giving a vehicle to the people who became stars by representing it.

Kuan Tai Chen (a man who rode his martial arts skills and moustache to fame with Shaw Brothers in the early 1970s) and Leung Siu-Lung (one of the brightest Brucesploitation stars in the late 1970s and early 1980s) play Dragon and Tiger, two disciples of Master Law (Teddy Robin, who is irrepressible fun) who look after his kung-fu school – now a teahouse – while Law lies in bed with a coma. Now in their sixties, both Leung and Chen are charismatic and entertaining leads whose martial arts skills are remarkable, a marvel we’re frequently shown in the plethora of fights the two get into. With the help of action choreographer Tak Yuen and Cheng and Kwok’s crisp direction, Chen and Leung show off their smooth, undeniable martial arts skills, their fights the highlights of the film.

If there’s one thing that Gallants has working against it, though, it’s its adherence to the accepted norms in Hong Kong action film storytelling. The plot, a Karate Kid­-esque plot about a dorky outsider coming to the teahouse to solve a real estate problem but staying to learn martial arts, isn’t anything we haven’t seen before, and the film’s numerous dramatic beats are never treated with the gravity that they should be (one major character is killed with nary a teary eye; a romantic subplot is abandoned halfway through the film). Their commitment to the trappings of the genre they love has meant that the scenes between fights are treated as comedy interludes – proof, perhaps, that too much adulation can be a bad thing.

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