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Knight Errant (1973)

Reviewed by: ewaffle
Date: 10/25/2007

“Knight Errant” does the unforgivable. It makes an action movie dull and does so, either by choice or necessity, by the shot selection during the fight scenes in the first hour. The master shot is grievously overused; indicating either that the director hadn’t shot enough of the individual fight scenes or had found them unusable during the editing. A master shot serves an important purpose—it records an entire scene from start to finish from an angle which keeps all of the main actors in view—but is by its nature undramatic and can look static even when fierce action is being filmed since the action is generally (and especially here) quite a ways from the camera. The medium shots that are used often show fights that are badly executed—punches that clearly miss the target sending the opponent sprawling, for example. One can credibly imagine that a lot of first takes were printed and very little coverage was available to substitute for even the worst to them. If these were the best of the scenes showing the details of the fights, then the reliance one long shots makes sense, at least in the context of getting 90 minutes of exposed film into the can.

Wang Yu is a cab driver trying to raise money for an operation for his blind sister but who keeps his family in debt by constantly getting into fights and having to pay the hospital expenses of those he defeats. The first fight we see take place when he is resting in his cab waiting for a long haul fare. Four men are robbing the transportation company where he works and try to commandeer his cab. There is a general melee in which Wang beats up the robbers but also accidentally throws one of his fellow employees to the ground from the top a truck. Instead of thanking him for stopping the robbery the boss announces he will have to pay the medical bills of the worker.

So three things are established very early in the movie--Lin Huo-Shan as played by Wang Yu is a very adept fighter but also one who doesn't pick his battles very well; he is a noble sort who is devoted to his handicapped sister and committed to funding her recovery but is also uncontrollable and hotheaded enough to keep blowing the money on reparations for his victims and the filmmakers, as discussed by Mr. Booth in his review, are hampered by a combination of lack of funding, lack of skill and, most likely, a compressed shooting schedule that both exacerbated and resulted from the first two.

The scenes of the three Japanese brothers being trained by the Lady with the Iron Fist seem to be from another movie entirely, related to the Wang Yu portions only by their graceless incompetence. The Lady with the Iron Fist reminded me of a cross between the truly scary Shirley Stoller as the Commandant in “Seven Beauties” and a farcical mother-in-law from a failed sitcom. Her methods of training, which included beating her trainees with sticks until they spit blood were so badly shot and edited that they had no emotional impact at all. It was so clear that no one was in danger of being hurt that the audience wasn’t interested.

Another difficulty with the story or its execution or both is that Wang Yu plays a real jerk, someone impossible to root for and too easy to dislike. He is one dimensional—all he is good at is street fighting. Every one of his donnybrooks which he often initiates costs money that could be going to his sisters operation. The most outrageous is when he is looking for his girlfriend at her workplace. One of the cooks there whispers something to him—probably that she has gone off with a rich client, which she has—and Wang responds by beating up most of the kitchen staff plus most of the tuxedo clad waiters and trashing both the kitchen and dining room.

There is no lack of movie professionals in front of the camera: Blackie Ko although this was quite early in his career; Eddy Ko Hung also toward the beginning of a long and productive career, even before he adopted the trademark gravity defying flattop/pompadour; and Sit Hon who acted in about 150 films, including about 50 before this one. Ding Sin-Saai wrote and directed scores of movies but if this is an example of his output I won't be looking for any more of them.

The women are a different story. Chan Pooi-Ling is extremely attractive but not a gifted actress while Chen Ying-Fung had the thankless role of the blind sister who needed the operation. In keeping with long cinematic tradition her character, who lived in a household of men, always had perfect hair and make-up and was turned out in color coordinated outfits.

I fully agree with Mr Booth regarding the fight in the sawmill. It is worth seeing--although not worth sitting through the 70 minutes of this movie to see--with some ingenious use of the available environmental weapons including saws, forklifts, chain hoists and log skidders. While lacking the maniacal energy of Jackie Chan's wonderful antics in the automobile plant during the ultimate battle in the car factory in "Twin Dragons" it is close to the brutal intensity of the fight in the boat factory of Hiroshi Fujioka and Stuart Ong in "In the Line of Duty III". But it does show that the director was capable of shooting fast moving, brutal action and editing it together into a good extended scene of mayhem.

Not recommended other than as indicated in the last paragraph of this review.

Reviewer Score: 3

Reviewed by: MrBooth
Date: 07/22/2005
Summary: 3/10

It's natural that a contemporary film from the 70's would age worse than a period film from the same time, but age alone can't excuse KNIGHT ERRANT for being crap, because there are much better contemporary films of the same era. The suckitude can mostly be put down to idiotic writing, incompetent acting, shoddy direction and slow, poorly choreographed and filmed fight scenes. Low budget was probably a factor for this Taiwanese production, too, since it would have bought a less experienced crew and given them less time to apply their limited skills (compared to a Shaw Brothers or Golden Harvest film from the same era, say).

Plot: Three Japanese kids train in karate for 20 years to take revenge on the Taiwanese guy who indirectly caused their father's death in the war. They then travel to Taiwan and try to drown him... go figure. Their 2 decades of training are not entirely wasted, however, because the man's son is Jimmy Wang Yu, and he knows kung fu.

Wang Yu plays the "knight errant", a young taxi-driver with a righteous soul who's always getting in trouble for beating up bad guys, and has to pay their hospital costs, which means he can never save enough to get his blind sister the operation he needs. Awww. The Chinese title for the film is something like "spirit of a hero", and is meant to show that a heroic character can be found in a humble guy, not just the swordsmen of yore. Don't expect a terribly detailed treatise on what makes one a hero though - beating up bad guys (especially when they threaten your family) seems to be enough.

Despite being shoddy in almost every respect, KNIGHT ERRANT escapes being totally unwatchable largely because of the last 20 minutes, where Jimmy Wang Yu fights Yasuaki Kurata then beats up an old lady. The latter part is more interesting than it sounds, and actually the old lady more than holds her own in the fight. The fight with Yasuaki Kurata is probably more entertaining though, as his expertise comes through with much faster pacing. They seem to have spent more time on this than most of the film, too, as the fight goes through various interesting locations in a saw mill and has more creative ideas.

It's really only this fight & the fight with the "Iron Fist Lady" that make the film worth seeing though, and even then it's only one for enthusiasts.

Reviewer Score: 3