Ode to Gallantry
Hong Kong 1982
Directed by Chang Cheh.

With a title like this, it can only be a Chang Cheh film. When it comes right down to it, ALL his films are odes to gallantry. But this movie confounds expectations by being very little about gallantry at all, or in any case seems to confuse it with simplemindedness.

The simple Bastard (the only name his mother ever gave him), played by Kuo Chui aka Phillip Kwok, stole a pancake because he was starving. But, turns out the pancake contains Xie Yanke's Black Iron Token, which is sort of a Wonka's Golden Ticket of the wuxia world, granting him any wish he might like to make to Xie, who would be obligated to fulfill it. Xie (Wang Li), for his part, is the terror of the Clans as he appears yearly demanding the Clans repay in blood for any heinous acts they committed through the year, which at times results in Xie culling an entire clan. The only way that a Clan can avoid the cull (other than being good) is for the Clan's leader to sacrifice for them.

Fearing Bastard might make him promise to stop his annual harvest of death, Xie spirits him away and trains him in martial arts so powerful that he is certain it will kill him. Instead, it makes him super-strong when he is rescued and his chi unblocked by a Clan that mistakes him for their villainous leader, Shi Zhongyu. They bring Bastard back and treat him as their boss, some realizing he is not Shi Zhongyu, but most hoping he will sacrifice himself to Xie should he come and demand blood from the Clan.

And so the simpleton stumbles from one situation from the other. Of course, Shi Zhongyu's girlfriend finds him and wants him to marry her as promised. She warns, "My grandpa is an evil killer, so don't try to be funny!!" Sage advice.

Somehow, the plot is even more complicated than what I've described so far, and though death is never far away, it's all pretty lighthearted fare that goes down easy but isn't very filling. I've never been a great fan of the simpleminded fool as hero genre, the concept that we are somehow better people if we aren't trying to think so much (or simply aren't capable of deep thought) is a romantic but dangerous idea that puts idiots in charge of nations.

Based on the short story of the same name (or "Xia Ke Xing") by Jin Yong. Of course, given how many characters are introduced and discarded during the whirlwind plot, how could it have come from anywhere else?

Rating: Not Recommended (Not Recommended)

Posted by Peter Nepstad on October 14, 2005.

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