As you may recall, our woman from the land down under, Dangerous Meredith, won any DVD of her choice and she happened to choose “Valiant Ones” (a/k/a Zhong lie tu). Directed by King Hu, with action choreography by Sammo Hung. So let’s see what Dangerous has to say:
Directed by King Hu, with action choreography by Sammo Hung.
Cast and crew found here:
Final fight scene:
The overall look to this film is elegant and spare. It is mostly set in a forest, with some interior shots of headquarters and tents. Some of the action also takes place on a sea-shore, and the first action scene happens in and around an inn in a poor fishing village. The costumes could be considered as being tasteful rather than glamorous, and feature scholars’ robes, peasant dress and soldiers’ uniforms. Even the high officials’ rich robes feature somber colors. The palette for the art direction in this movie sits harmoniously with the greens of the forest and the blues of the sea against which it is set: blues, grays, beige’s, browns and whites predominate. The occasional red of some soldiers’ uniforms is a nicely judged splash of color.
The performances could be called elegant and spare as well. Although the actors all use the ultra intense eye focus and graceful and stylized placement of gestures, limbs and bodies that is (to me anyway) a hall mark of kung fu movie acting, there is no really ‘big’ or extravagant acting here. The simple plot and action choreography do not seem to call for it. Our heroes are a band of fighters that have been called together to take on a troupe of pirates that are threatening to colonise part of China’s coast. The fighters are experienced and adept martial arts veterans. They are taciturn, dignified, cunning and of serious intent. Outrageous shenanigans are not their bag. In keeping with the austere overall tone of this movie, even the villains are not as over the top as in some chopsockies.
It is as if director King Hu has done away with anything that could be a distraction to the forward motion of his plot. There are no tizzy costumes, no fake tiger skin rugs, no bizarre and gurning villains in this film. The one female warrior is nicely dressed, yes, but she does not wear a pastel coloured costume or fake eye lashes. Instead the intentness of the Valiant Ones, the build of tension as they wait for the pirate attack on their forest camp, the ploys they use to outwit the pirates, are presented to us in a steady unfolding of plot.
The action scenes break out as a necessary expression of the tension and contained energy that builds during the film. The action scenes are embedded skillfully in the narrative, as they are in the best kung fu movies. In one way, the dialogue scenes could be seen as setting the scene for the fights. But in another way, the plot developments and expression of character and feeling that is contained in the choreography seems to initiate and make sense of the atmosphere in the dialogue driven scenes. The libretto of this film has a nice balance between dialogue and action, and these 2 components have been skillfully integrated.
The lovely choreography in this film is interesting. One the one hand it is by far the most flamboyant and fanciful element of this movie. But, compared to other kung fu movie choreography, it is (as with all other aspects of Valiant Ones) pared down and more austere. There are no balletic, acrobatic, wire fu inspired fantastic flights of fancy here. The movement is elegant but not in the least bit quirky or whimsical or baroque. The fight scenes do their job – they serve the plot – and then they contribute just enough beauty to ensure the aesthetic appeal of the film (but not one jot more). I have just finished blogging about the fight in the White Lotus temple in Once Upon A Time in China 2. Choreographed by Yuen Wu Ping, this fight scene does a grand job of supporting its host movie’s themes and narrative but could also stand alone as an independent piece of performance art. None of the fight scenes in Valiant Ones could quite do that. The intention behind the choreographing, directing and filming of the action here is quite different.
Editors Notes: Dangerous always writes almost metaphysical reviews of movies which are a welcome change of pace from your run of the mill recitation of the facts.