Gallants (2010) — January 28, 2018
Seeing this now at home, alone, more than seven years after catching it in a massive yet still overstuffed festival venue (the no longer operating Ridge in Vancouver), and being significantly more familiar with the cast and the kung fu classics it’s riffing on is such a vastly different experience. Back in 2010, it was a wild and zany romp, hilarious and weird, with inventive and unpredictable action enlivening its low-budget setting and unoriginal plot. Now, the shock of the new is gone and what is left is an overwhelming sense of nostalgia, of time passing and things fading away. Chen Kuan-tai was unknown to me in 2010 but now he’s the beautiful man of so many Chang Cheh films, punching people in the fist with righteousness. Now in his 60s, he’s broken down, sad-faced and paunchy, his first instinct to bow before aggression. Bruce Leung too, round and bespectacled, and Teddy Robin Kwan, the diminutive rock star hanging around so many Cinema City joints, older now, but essentially the same. A movie that had been goofy fun turns more serious, more sad, and ultimately more triumphant in its unexpected ending, an embrace of nothingness, the end of life and the end of martial arts, to which the only logical response is laughter.
I’m curious about the contrasting fates of its two directors. After the film proved to be a big hit, and won the Hong Kong Film Award for Best Picture, Derek Kwok has gone on to a productive and successful career in special effects adventures, co-directing with Stephen Chow Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons and directing last year’s not very good but nonetheless profitable Wu Kong. Clement Cheng though, who also had the melodrama Merry-Go-Round at VIFF in 2010 (which also starred Teddy Robin), has directed only a handful of shorts since then, though he was a producer on Sammo Hung’s My Beloved Bodyguard and last year’s Zombiology.
Wu Kong (2017) — November 12, 2017
Nothing about this makes the least bit of sense. Without the talent behind it (Eddie Peng, Derek Kwok) and the character name (The Monkey King, but Dark), it’d be just another bland, forgettable exercise in CGI nonsense ala Legend of the Naga Pearls or Dr. Strange.