All HK action movie fans know the name of director John Woo, with classics such as The Killer and Hard Boiled in most collections but one of his earlier films he did for Golden Harvest Studios, Last Hurrah For Chivalry is one that is neglected unfairly by some, which is a shame as it has many of the themes that he would go on to explore in his later gangster movies.
This epic swordplay film starts with a wedding ceremony for Kao (Liu Chiang), a warrior who has many loyal followers. But the wedding is interrupted by one of his main enemies Pai (Lee Hoi Sang) and his men who set about slaughtering everybody. As it turns out Kao’s wife-to-be, who he freed from a brothel, has betrayed him for a bigger slice of cash. Kao manages to escape with a couple of colleagues and together with his master sets out to plan his revenge.
To do this he enlists the help of Chang (Wei Pei) who joins forces with Green (Damian Lau) who both become friends and are master swordsmen. Green has fallen into being a drunk but still holds all of his skill with a blade, Chang is known as the Magic Sword a man with supreme skill but also a sense of honour.
Meanwhile, Kao has become obsessed with getting his hands on his master’s treasured Moonlight Sword, but his master refuses to hand it over until Kao has rid himself of all the hatred and bad attitude. Kao befriends and helps out Chang with his dying mother and so Chang and Green decide to team up and raid the fortress that Pai has built up and get revenge for Kao. But if victorious there will be another tragic twist to the tale.
Everything about this film is top class from the imaginative cinematography, wipes are used a lot, not really seen much in HK cinema at that time, and the choreography is expertly done. Look out for a brilliant cameo by Fung Hak On as the deadly swordsman Pray. “Anyone who touches my sword will die” is his saying and he ends up in an extended and bloody duel with Chang. The storming of the villain’s lair is done with flair and surprise, some of the guards have special skills with weapons and one swordsman is nicknamed The Sleeping Wizard as he tends to nod off mid-battle! The ever-reliable Lee Hoi Sang is great as the main villain who kills his students just for his own pleasure while sparring with them, he also wields a wicked Kwan Do in the final battle.
There is a second climax to the film which is slightly overlong but overall this is a superior swordplay epic from a director who was learning his craft, and you can see the influence his Shaw Brothers mentor Chang Cheh had on him. He also gets to explore the themes of brotherhood and loyalty, which again he did later with his modern-day epics.
The film has been remastered and released on Blu-ray by Eureka in the UK on a double bill package with another early John Woo film Hand of Death. The picture quality is superb as is the original mono sound and re-translated subtitles. Announced recently in the USA is that Criterion is set to release the film onto Blu-ray in the USA in 2023.
A superb swordplay epic that should be seen by all fans of the genre.
FILM – 8.5 OUT OF 10