UK Release date: 25th July 2011
Running time: 93 mins
Running time: 93 mins
Director: Clement Sze-Kit & Chi-kin Kwok
Starring: Siu-Lung Leung, Kuan Tai Chen, Teddy Ronin Kwan, You-Nam Wong
Genre: Martial Arts
Reviewer: Adam Wing
With Gallants, Derek Kwok and Clement Cheng invite you on an old-school Hong Kong martial arts journey with a 21st century twist. Gallants brings together a winning cast of old and new, featuring Shaw Brothers veteran Chen Kuan Tai (The Tea House), Bruce Leung (Kung Fu Hustle), and a scene-stealing turn from Teddy Robin. Wong Yau Nam, MC Jin, and JJ Jia are on hand to represent the new age, but it’s the spectacular action choreography by Yuen Tak that’s most likely to appeal to the kids of today. Gallants took home the Audience Award at the 2010 New York Asian Film Festival, and while Shaw Brothers fanatics are sure to lap it up, will Gallants appeal to a younger demographic raised on Thai sensation Tony Jaa and The Rock?
Cheung (Wong Yau Nam) used to be a tough bully as a kid, but times change, and now he’s stuck in a miserable real estate job with no friends and no prospects. Beat upon for the majority of the first act, he’s sent by his bosses to complete a deal in a rural village ripe for redevelopment. Law's Teahouse is the only place holding out on the deal, run by old martial artists Dragon (Chen Kuan Tai) and Tiger (Bruce Leung). They stay on at the former martial arts school with their loyal assistant Kwai (JJ Jia), in order to tend to their teacher Master Law (Teddy Robin), who’s been in a coma for several years.
Cheung’s past comes back to haunt him when he’s reintroduced to old childhood victim Mang (MC Jin), but instead of helping Mang seal the deal, Cheung asks the two masters to teach him martial arts. He wants his mojo back you see, and there may well be a girl involved (isn’t there always?). Seeing as Cheung has spent the first half of the movie overacting, whining and falling over, it’s hardly surprising that they turn him away. Or at least, that’s their intention. Cheung gets lucky when Master Law wakes up and mistakes him for his leading disciples - both of them. The Law Martial Arts School is back in business, and with a martial arts competition just around the corner, Master Law is about to show the new age a thing or two about fighting.
Gallants could prove to be a tough sell on these shores, there are no big names for modern audiences, and the endless tributes to old school classics might be lost on a younger generation. Which is a shame, because Gallants possesses more charm than a thousand Dwayne Johnson movies, and an uplifting likeability that escapes the majority of action movies made today. The opening credit sequence sets the mood, but in truth, Gallants only really finds its feet when Teddy Robin’s Master Law wakes from his coma. The opening act is somewhat chaotic, with Wong Yau Nam’s over-enthusiasm proving a little distracting at times. There’s a lot of shouting, very little coherence, and Gallants runs the risk of alienating a western audience unaccustomed to Hong Kong humour and exuberance.
Chen Kuan Tai and Bruce Leung make a good fist of it, especially when it comes to the numerous fight sequences (they’ve still got it), but it’s Teddy Robin who steals the show as a lovable rogue bleeding comedy mileage from every pore. Whether he’s hitting out at Cheung, taking to the dance floor or trying it on with the ladies, Teddy’s performance is jam-packed with savvy, heart, charm and charisma. Laugh-out-loud funny one minute, pulling on the heartstrings the next, his portrayal of Master Law brings with it an unexpected level of emotion that works wonders throughout. The younger actors perform well enough, but they’re upstaged at every turn by a trusty old guard making the most of their twilight years. The zero-to-hero narrative is a little too predictable perhaps, but Derek Kwok & Clement Cheng successfully avoid the traditional pit falls associated with such a familiar set up.
It’s certainly not a perfect waste of time, Cheung’s love story is undercooked and unnecessary - almost as though Kwok and Cheng realised early on who the real stars of the show were. The younger cast members don’t really get a look in either, Wong Yau Nam gets plenty of screen time but he stands in the shadow of some splendid support work. Overflowing with references, subtle nods and attention to detail, you don’t have to be an expert in old school action movies to appreciate Gallants - but it sure helps.
Despite a cluttered opening, the breezy innocence and uplifting charm shines through, showcasing the many delights we adore about Hong Kong cinema. If that doesn’t convince you, there’s always the electrifying action sequences to fall back on. Gallants might be a tough sell on these shores, but some things are definitely worth fighting for. Packing a mighty punch - and blessed with heart, passion and charm long since forgotten in this day and age - Gallants is a love letter to action cinema that demands your full attention.