The Valiant Ones
Subtlety and artistry are not normally associated with Chinese martial arts movies of the 1960s and 1970s, the notable exceptions being the works of King Hu. Having revolutionised the genre with poetic sword-fighting sagas such as Come Drink with Me (1966), Dragon Gate Inn (1967) and A Touch of Zen (1971), Hu faced a new challenge as fists overtook blades in the wake of Bruce Lee and rise of a new type of kung fu.
Hu responded in the early 1970s with two classics: The Fate of Lee Khan (1973) and The Valiant Ones (1975). The latter is particularly remarkable for the ingenious way in which the director combined armed and unarmed combat.
Hu's script is lean and spare, with a deceptively simple yarn set during the reign of Ming emperor Jiajing (1507-1567). Themes of heroism and righteousness are indicated in the title's reference to the characters at its centre: a general (played by Roy Chiao Hung) and the team he enlists to battle Chinese pirates operating in cahoots with Japanese bandits and members of the Ming court.
It's a man's world with one exception: a swordswoman (Hsu Feng) who with her husband (Bai Ying) prove pivotal to vanquishing the forces of evil. Theirs is a universe in which actions truly speak louder than words: the lady doesn't even have a line of dialogue.
Hu employed a young martial artist billed as Chu Yuen-lung but soon to become famous as Sammo Hung Kam-bo. Doing double duty as the chief Japanese pirate and designing the action choreography, he left an indelible impression in each sphere.
Nearly 40 years later, the Hung-orchestrated finale still comes across as fresh and innovative.
Even more momentous is the presence of Yuen Biao and Jackie Chan who, together with Hung, would transform celluloid wushu into international screen fare.
The Valiant Ones , Oct 27, 2pm, HK Film Archive. Early Treasures: Celebrating Unesco's World Day for Audiovisual Heritage