Last Hurrah for Chivalry (1979)

Reviewed by: ewaffle
Date: 02/21/2009

“Last Hurrah for Chivalry” is a nihilistic gorefest that takes place in a barely civilized universe of chaos, brutality and betrayal. Power belongs to those who seize it and authority is vested in those who can pay the most. Those who try to remain loyal to the old ideas of chivalry and honor wind up with a spear in the back or a sword across the throat. Bordellos and taverns are the only thriving businesses.

There are two warring families in the area, Kao and Pai and the action opens at the wedding of the scion of the Kao family to the most beautiful prostitute in town. The festivities are interrupted by Pai who delivers a pigs head as his offering to the bride and groom. In the murderous melee that follows we learn that Kao’s bride has been paid off by Pai to kill him (she barely fails) and that the palatial house used for the wedding was formerly the family manse of Pai. They are the first set of antagonists.

The other pair is Chang and Green. Chang’s case is a strange one. He is an extremely talented swordsman who keeps his blade in storage and who works at the local livery stable washing horses in order the get enough money to buy herbs to keep his mother alive. He isn’t in disguise or hiding out—everyone in town and more than a few who travel through know of his fighting prowess. Green is his counterpart, a character who seems easier to understand. A feared assassin for hire, Green has been retained to free a bank robber from the clutches of some type of police force, a task he carries out without difficulty although his client tries to kill him instead of paying him. Green, of course, hunts him down and slaughters him and all of his gang while befriending Chang.

Chang and Green, while first suspicious of each other, begin to bond over their shared interest in bloodshed, revenge and causing sudden death. They are locked in almost constant sword fights, first against individuals then dealing with larger and larger groups. It turns out that both warring clans are headed by scoundrels who pay for the temporary loyalty of their followers and the protagonists must do battle against the heavily armed retainers of Kao and Pai and then the heads of the families themselves.

Like many of John Woo’s later works the central theme of “Last Hurrah for Chivalry” is the undying love between manly loners, the unspoken but powerful affinity between two knights errant whose love for each other transcends everything else. Their connection is so strong that they fight as one, each protecting the other while being protected.

The idea of prostitution is also thematically important. Other than Chang’s mother and sister all of the women are prostitutes. They are paid to provide what they can—sex and companionship—and are the female counterparts of the paid men at arms who follow Kao and Pai. In each case their services are available to whoever pays the most. Kao’s putative bride serves both functions—an acknowledged prostitute who has been purchased from her bordello but who is being paid more by Pai to serve as a soldier and kill Kai.

The only pure emotions are Chang’s love for his mother, a love which is exploited by Kao in order to manipulate the son to work for him, and the intense but chaste love of the two warriors for each other. Everything else is lawless, disordered and dirty.

The fights are well choreographed and executed although Wai Pak seemed a half-step slow, particularly in his long (a bit too long) duel with Fung Hak-On. Chin Yuet-Sang was amazing as the Sleeping Swordsman, Lee Hoi-Sang was as big, fit and skilled as anyone could be and everyone was fit and well trained. Terrific fights that were also shot and edited well with enough surprising endings "watch for his last move" to keep things suspenseful.


Reviewer Score: 7

Reviewed by: pjshimmer
Date: 06/26/2005

What do John Woo, Johnnie To, and Patrick Tam have in common? For one, they were pioneers of the HK new wave movement in the late 70s/early 80s. For another, they are known for their modern day gangster, bullet ballet, heroic bloodshed, or crime films, BUT each director's debute was in the realm of martial arts: Tam's "The Sword," To's "Enigmatic Case," and Woo's "Last Hurrah for Chivalry." Despite the genre gap, the fact is, their debutes do embody some of their later-established trademarks. In Woo's case, Last Hurrah is definitely a cry for loyalty and honor, familiar themes that he will explore again and again in revolutionary projects like A Better Tomorrow and The Killer.

Woo's cinematic values of friendship and honor (and their fading in contemporary society) have been influenced a great deal by mentor Chang Cheh, and they are evident in Last Hurrah, proof that values transcend genre.


Reviewed by: crazytigerfong
Date: 03/20/2002
Summary: F#$%in' Crazy!

This is how old school martial arts should've been done. I'm quite suprised that John Woo would've gone from swords to guns; I really loved this movie, and I figured Woo would stay with what worked.

But I must tell you that Woo knows action. Damian Lau was absolutely awesome in his role and so was the lead character. That had this wonderful brotherhood that really made you pull for them.

I thoroughly enjoyed the final fight scene... that has to be one of the best endings I have ever seen in any movie. There is enough action there to be a movie!

Overally, this film is very very very good!

Reviewed by: nomoretitanic
Date: 03/10/2001
Summary: Badass

When watching wuxia pics, I many time would end up liking the villain more than the hero because the villains are usually more badass and always had more fun. Not in this movie, the heroes are pretty badass and the villains are pretty badass too, except for this one who's a pretty boy.
The plot and characters are great, John Woo stuff, a lot of honor and betrayl without the doves or crucifix metaphors. The sets are a bit phony and the choreography is slower than what we have now, but I still like it, a lot.
The actions as I've said before are slower than the undercranked wirefu we've got now but I liked them because they're really well-choreographed, the shots and takes are a lot longer and a lot more are happening on screen than what we have now, kinda makes up for the slow speed.
But this is a lot better written than the stuff we have now, I miss those old school pictures. We have the technology now, why can't we make the ones with them old school sensibilities?
John Woo, please put down that Tom Cruise over there and come back.

Reviewed by: jean yves
Date: 01/06/2001
Summary: Great Old School

IMO, this is a really underrated old-school KF movie. The choreography of the sword fights is easily on par with the best of the Shaw Brothers late 70's work, and it has the recognizeable Woo plot of two down-on-their-luck friends who choose loyalty and honor over comfort and prosperity. I just can't say enough about the sword work in this movie--it takes so much more skill to make these old-school movies than it does to make the wire-work martial arts flicks of the 90's. If you like Master Killer or Five Deadly Venoms, you'll definitely appreciate this one.

Reviewed by: hkcinema
Date: 12/08/1999

Plain martial arts film but given an edge by some stylishtouches. Woo's slow motion is used (unlike "Hand of Death"). Shows where Woo would go even if the movie is only so-so at best.

[Reviewed by John Robert Dodd]