Gallants is a true kung fu movie. It’s not about revenge or anything else; it’s about kung fu. And it’s a superb comedy, with just the right amount of gravity to give it a thoughtful point. Tiger and Dragon are two aging martial arts students in a current-day rural Hong Kong village who have devoted the last 30 years of their lives to watching over their old kung fu master Law, who for all this time has been in a coma. Tiger has a bad leg and Dragon has a bad hand; these were the injuries they sustained 30 years ago from too much fighting. The Law kung fu school has now, without a master, been turned into the Law tea house, but Tiger and Dragon are still keeping up their excellent kung fu and often getting into brawls with the other locals.
Another main character is Cheung, a young guy who is a complete loser, hounded by persistent misfortune. He works at the lowest level of a big real estate company in the city, and when his boss is finally fed up with his slow work, he sends him to the rural village to sort out the old deed for the Law tea house. The company also has an office at the village, but the people working there are ruthless and dishonest, so Cheung soon falls in with the tea house tennants, i.e. Tiger, Dragon and a few other locals, incl. an attractive young woman named Kwai.
Of course, during one of the local brawls, old master Law wakes up from his coma. And boy, is this guy a character. He’s a coarse and dwarfish old fart (and to me, rather reminiscent of Warwick Davis) who is unaware that he’s been out of action for 30 years, so he at once resumes training his students. Only, he doesn’t recognize Tiger and Dragon (thinking instead that they must be new students), but mistakes Cheung for both of them! Tiger and Dragon’s reaction is to pretend that it’s 30 years ago and reactivate the school, taking care not to let Law discover that it is now a tea house.
Meanwhile, a new modern kung fu school in the city is having a tournament, the winners of which will be able to attract a lot of new students. Master Law undertakes to prepare his students for this event, which is hard. Cheung wants to learn, but as Law thinks that Cheung is Tiger and Dragon, he shoves him aside with the comment that their skills are sufficient, so they don’t need training! Conversely, he pushes the actual Tiger and Dragon extra hard. He is a strict taskmaster and also a highly comical one. And eventually Cheung of course does learn a thing or two.
I am of course leaving out a few subplots here (and, actually, the whole deal with the deed never seems to become quite clear); after all, it won’t do to reveal too much. Suffice it to say that the quality of the fighting is very good (Tiger and Dragon and Master Law are played by old Shaw Brothers stars), and the movie is presented in an extremely original and comical way, in a modern homage to old kung fu movies. When each character is introduced, their name is splattered melodramatically across the screen, and this also goes for a 30-year-old preserved chicken which, you’ll be happy to know, is played by the not unknown Frozen Chicken.
Gallants, written and directed by two debutantes, is a rip-roaring success and must be given this reviewer’s highest recommendation. It is almost as good as Shaolin Soccer.
Directors: Clement Sze-Kit Cheng and Chi-kin Kwok
Cast: Siu-Lung Leung, Kuan Tai Chen, Teddy Robin Kwan, You-Nam Wong, J.J. Jia
Runtime: 98 min.
Country: Hong Kong