NYAFF 2010: GALLANTS Review
When I first read or heard about Derek Kwong and Clement Cheng's GALLANTS, I thought the movie would be funnier. I was pleasantly surprised that aside from being a great, entertaining martial arts flick, GALLANTS is also a movie brimming with a lot of heart.
GALLANTS, which stars Hong Kong's many heavyweight contenders, follows the story of Cheung (Wong Yue-nam), an overall wimpy loser, who is assigned to rural China to settle a property dispute. Cheung finds himself in a long conflict with local property developers who are trying to take over an old teahouse. The teahouse, which used to be a reputable martial arts studio, belongs to Dragon (Chen Kuan-tai) and Tiger (Bruce Leung). Both Dragon and Tiger have been struggling to keep the place afloat, while they wait for their legendary master Law (Teddy Robin) to wake up from a coma. At this point Cheung's existence becomes secondary as the real stars of the film take over both the story and the screen. Cheung's character functions as a way to set the audience's point of view towards the story, since we basically experience the film from Cheung's point of view. While it doesn't work against the film, I cannot help but think that Cheung's plot feels like excess fat that can be trimmed from the film entirely.
The characters in the film all feel really familiar. Not long into the film, I felt like I've known them forever. The characters that are in the film take on very traditional conventions from Hong Kong Kung Fu movies. If you are in any way familiar with the genre, you probably have encountered a variation of these characters in one way or another. What makes them different in GALLANTS is the aura of dignity that these actors have imbued the characters with. I cannot imagine any of the actors in the film being replaced with anyone else. The film is so perfectly cast, and the chemistry between them works so well together. Even the younger actors seem to hold their ground quite well against their seniors.
The visuals of GALLANTS borrow a lot from old Kung Fu Movies, with a bit of a grind house treatment. The film is dark, gritty and vintage looking. Growing up with Hong Kong Kung Fu films playing on daytime television, this film looks like the kind of films I haven't seen in a really long time.
Honestly, I thought the film would be a lot more slapstick, but it isn't. GALLANTS has a lot of heart in it, and a lot of melancholic nostalgia to offset the comedic content of the film. It works well though - very well. It makes the film more human and relatable. Kwong and Cheng have achieved something that escaped Judd Apatow in his FUNNY PEOPLE. GALLANTS has the perfect balance between humor and real sincere emotional struggle. The humor in the film does not cheapen the overall emotional arc of the characters, neither does it behave as a sort of detour from the plot. Instead the comedy behaves like a logical and compassionate reaction to the harsh realities of life that these characters are facing. The comedic elements of the film present a sort of grace to the already proud stars on the screen.
GALLANTS is a must see, whether you are a Kung Fu film fan or not. Seriously. It's the kind of film that I would see again just to remind myself just how wonderful cinema is.
GALLANTS screens as part of the 2010 New York Asian Film Festival on July 6th and 8th (6:00PM) at the Lincoln Center. Click here to buy tickets!