Valiant Ones, The (1975)
Director: King Hu
Cast: Hsu Feng, Bai Ying, Roy Chiao
Plot: The Japanese and Chinese pirates attack the South East coast area of China. The pirates bribe the local officials and high rank officials in the court and so it’s difficult to eradicate them. The Emperor appoints Wan Zhu to eliminate the pirates.
Genre: Action / Drama
IN RETROSPECT (Spoilers: NO)
With one of the most exciting and intense climactic fight sequences in all of Chinese action cinema, The Valiant Ones ends on a rousing high that have few equals. King Hu's 1975 work may be underrated as compared to the likes of Dragon Inn (1967) and A Touch of Zen (1970), but it is one of his most accomplished pictures.
The story follows a group of state officers and skillful martial artists tasked to track down bandits who have been looting and killing villagers. These bandits are commanded by an elusive Japanese head who must be stopped at all costs.
The Valiant Ones functions in the manner similar to Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954), except that the righteous are not helping to protect a particular village. Instead, they roam the forests setting traps and arranging for an ambush. Their trickeries are sometimes matched by the villains, thus providing some intriguing material for Hu to design action spectacles around them.
The film runs less than two hours, though I must admit it feels much longer than that. While that may indicate poor pacing, I think it would be more accurate to see it as deliberate pacing. Deliberation doesn't mean ignorance; Hu inserts shots of nature, of the sea and rocky mountains. It is a beautiful film, slow enough to be appreciated in its own terms.
A particular lengthy sequence sees two martial artists heading to an unknown island on a wooden boat (this part reminds me of the river journeys in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)) only to find themselves having practice duels with their 'enemies'. It may initially feel like a redundant part of The Valiant Ones, but it manages to make itself relevant by setting the stage for the finale.
To Hu's credit, he also takes the opportunity in this sequence to showcase the stunning combat skills of one of the swordsmen, named 'Whirlwind'. Whirlwind, I must say lives up to his name, and Hu shows us why in the spectacular climax.
The Valiant Ones sees the characters constantly waiting for action, and like us as audiences, we are gratified when action comes. Hu doesn't disappoint one bit. This is an action masterpiece, a technically brilliant feat of marrying cinematography and editing to deliver jaw-dropping scenes. And mind you, this was all achieved in 1975 without the aid of computer effects.
Verdict: One of King Hu's top three works, this is an action masterpiece with brilliantly choreographed fight sequences.
GRADE: A (9/10 or 4.5 stars)
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