Last Hurrah for Chivalry (1979)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2009-02-21
“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