The Criterion Voyages (Spine #1174): LAST HURRAH FOR CHIVALRY -- A Wuxia Hit From Iconic Filmmaker John Woo
By Sean Boelman
One of the most in-demand titles in the Criterion Collection is the out-of-print edition of John Woo’s Hard Boiled. It only makes sense that Criterion would add more of the filmmaker’s movies to their lineup, and the next one to join the fold is an early film of his — the Wuxia romp Last Hurrah for Chivalry.
The film is an epic adventure about a nobleman seeking vengeance with the assistance of two expert swordsmen. As is the case with many martial arts movies, the story is convoluted, with it being hard to follow whose allegiance rests with whom, but the fun is the absurd and larger-than-life nature of the narrative.
This type of film falls firmly within the wheelhouse of Hong Kong action director John Woo, whose movies are known for being heavily stylized and ridiculous, but impressive technical feats nonetheless. The same is very much true here, even though it is one of the earlier works in his filmography.
Although Wuxia films have existed for decades, they weren’t really popularized in Western culture until the early 2000s. As such, it’s always fascinating to see an early work in the genre, especially when it is made by a filmmaker with such technical prowess and maximalist tendencies as Woo.
As one would expect from a Wuxia film, there are some amazing martial arts fight sequences throughout. And for a movie that was made in 1979, the special effects are shockingly good, allowing the film to make the most out of its surreal and buoyant tone and action sequences. At a point, the swordplay begins to become somewhat monotonous, but then the action choreography takes a turn that is far more ambitious.
Last Hurrah for Chivalry contains what might be one of the greatest sequences ever committed to film. The candle room sequence includes both amazing choreography and some absolutely insane pyrotechnic effects. It sets a very high bar for the rest of Woo’s career, but fans know that the master action filmmaker one-ups himself with each and every movie he makes.
The only new bonus feature on this edition is a new interview with kung fu cinema scholar Grady Hendrix. Otherwise, it’s a bit bare-bones in that regard. Still, the film’s 2K restoration is pretty great, its crisp image being more than enough reason alone to pick up the Blu-Ray edition of this previously hard-to-find classic of Asian cinema.
Last Hurrah for Chivalry is exactly as enjoyable as you would expect from a Wuxia movie made by John Woo. Genre cinephiles will certainly want to pick up this pivotal piece of martial arts cinema history.
The Criterion Collection edition of Last Hurrah for Chivalry is now available.
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