In one of his early films, acclaimed director John Woo crafts an action-packed tale of a son who recruits two master swordsmen to help avenge his father's murder.
In the Chinese wu hsia
(martial chivalry) genre, sword-swinging heroes are often referred to as "altruists," and it's that aspect of the legend that gets a workout in this 1978 John Woo effort. Kao (Wei Pei), the duplicitous pivotal character, has purchased a beautiful wife for 1,000 taels of gold; alas, his rival, the prodigious fighter Pei, has paid her 2,000 taels to kill him. The moral is that when loyalty can be purchased, it no longer exists. The central action unfolds against this backdrop of a cynical, mercenary world. Kao selects a couple of fighters as soldiers in his quest for revenge, but being rare and noble souls they won't fight for money alone. Only after Kao, in a calculated move, helps Chang's dying mother will the fighters agree to take the case. This is only a moderately successful action movie, but it was a crucial stepping-stone in Woo's career: the action scenes, the highly emotional friendships, and the romantic music recall Chang Cheh, who Woo credits as an inspiration for his later gangster pictures, A Better Tomorrow
and The Killer
. The mournful resignation, the fading values, even the final assault on the baddie's headquarters, all these flourishes became staples of the Hong Kong gang films of the 1980s--though the gang flicks can't boast eccentric characters like the Sleeping Wizard, who fights in his sleep. --David Chute
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.