The Valiant Ones (1975)

Reviewed by: ewaffle
Date: 11/11/2007

“The Valiant Ones” is an exciting story of how a small group of dedicated and deadly patriots defeated a much larger gang of Japanese pirates who protected by traitorous members of the Chinese court. It meets most of the criteria of an epic, tale which recount a narrative of great national or ethnic importance, a tale that can be legendary, historical or a combination of both; is beautifully shot using mountain and seaside locations and the action choreography and execution is quite good for its time. While at first it seems to be almost all action the characters come alive to us through as they engage in battle, defining themselves by what they do more than by what they say. The men (and one woman) who General Yu Da You brings together as his mobile fighting force are courageous, gallant, generous with their friends and implacable with their enemies. Preternaturally skillful with sword, spear and fist, they stand against incredibly high odds, outnumbered in every battle. General Yu and his band are the people you want on your side in a fight.

We see this in the very first battle when they are attacked by a much larger force. First they stop the immediate probing attacks, then find out the headquarters and communications center for the main body of the approaching brigands, then lure them into an ambush using a ruse and making them think the defenders have been disabled. Since General Yu's fighters are able to grab arrows out of the air they aren't in much danger but their blood-curdling shrieks make the attackers think they have struck mortal blows. When they press forward they are caught in a confusion of bamboo screens, hallways that lead to dead ends and other areas that the defenders know very well. Although greatly outnumbered defenders--very tough swordsmen--not only beat back the attack but kill the majority of the fleeing Japanese.

Yu has a large bag of tricks—his unit surprises the enemy, maneuvers around and through them, leads them into ambush, strikes at flanks and weak points and retreats when hopelessly outnumbered. He also knows the importance of secrecy, making sure that Old Li, whose fishing operation he defended in the first action, doesn't talk about the battle. He wants to make sure the pirates will continue to fall for this very simple trick. One reason for their continued success is the skill of Chinese fighters combined with the tactical genius of their leader. One of General Yu's men may be worth ten of the ronin but five of them together with the force multiplier of Yu’s tactical brilliance are superior to a couple of hundred pirates.

There are more enemies than the Japanese, though with the governor’s court rife with both treachery and bureaucratic inertia. General Zhao, the incumbent military commander in the district, tells the governor that the pirates aren’t that much of a problem and then insists on more troops when his army is defeated by the marauders. General Yu is denounced as arrogant and high-handed by his opponents at the court who tell the governor not to employ him. The governor, though, is completely committed to his mission—the Emperor has sent him to this corner of China to rid it of the seaborne predators and he will do everything in his power to accomplish it.

More dangerous is Prosecutor Lin and his assistant, also called Prosecutor Lin in the subtitles. They were a very slimy duo—profiteers, collaborators and traitors who informed the pirates of Yu’s plans. He found them out and they were appropriately punished but not until their betrayals had cost the lives of an entire village that Yu had sworn to protect.

There is a wonderful confrontation between Pai Ying who as Wu is as strong, silent and imperturbable a character as one could be and a Japanese swordsman could have "punk" stenciled on his robes. The Japanese is insolent, thuggish and contemptuous of his foe, the opposite of Mr. Wu. Wu humiliates the foreign fighter, unlike the Chinese martial arts experts who had challenged him immediately before and who he simply defeated without forcing them lose face.

“The Valiant Ones” is a beautiful movie to look at. King Hu used the wide screen filling it with close-ups of men in battle or gorgeous shots of craggy cliffs and the rockbound seacoast. Some of the cinematography is striking—clouds glowing pink on one edge, just touched by the setting sun for example. Hu is an artist of the first rank, a brilliant auteur. This movie is a beautiful looking action film, a meditation on the costs of leadership and a profound examination of sacrifice and loss.


Reviewer Score: 9

Reviewed by: MrBooth
Date: 03/07/2003

Few directors interest me as much as King Hu, whose influence on Hong Kong cinema is virtually unparalleled. Or perhaps it's just because his movies are so hard to see :) Either way, I was very excited to get the chance to see THE VALIANT ONES on the big screen.
King Hu's skills as a film-maker were broad, but it was primarily his innovative approach to filming action sequences that made his name. He's basically the guy that invented the Wu Xia Pian. THE VALIANT ONES is very much an action movie, filled with sword fights inventively choreographed by a young Sammo Hung and even more inventively filmed by King Hu.
The plot is none too complex - a dignitary assembles an inordinately talented bunch of fighters together to tackle the pirates that have been decimating a region. The fighters use their superior intellects and kung fu to tackle hoards and hoards of their foe. The schemes and machinations that the characters employ are relatively straightforward for King Hu, with the focus definitely being on setting up the fight scenes. Battles happen frequently, and can last for quite some time.
Our heroes are all clearly real professionals, masters of swordsmanship and strategy. They are an interesting bunch of characters, with Hsu Feng's silent but deadly swordswoman being the audience favourite. Their opponents are clearly no match for them most of the time... until they start getting closer to the pirate's lair, and the opposition gets progressively tougher. The leader of the Japanese pirates is played by Sammo Hung himself, clearly a match for most fighters :)
Sammo Hung's influence on the fight choreography is clear - very aggressive, high impact choreography. King Hu's editing further enhances this by foregoing the long shots typical of kung fu cinema before him and pioneering the rapid edit, active camera techniques that would later become the standard in Hong Kong action movies. The action scenes do not require particularly much physical skill from the performers, as the editing gives them more than human skills itself. Obviously King Hu's style was very influential on Tsui Hark in particular, and through him the entire wu xia genre. In particular, the camera techniques in the final fight of Tsui Hark's THE BLADE are stolent outright from THE VALIANT ONES.
THE VALIANT ONES is generally considered to be one of the last great movies King Hu made, if not the very last. Still it is not considered to be on quite the same master level as A TOUCH OF ZEN or COME DRINK WITH ME, for instance - primarily because it is so focussed on action. Outside the action scenes things are handled competently, but not with the same layers of meaning or attention to detail that some of his other movies have. It's a rare movie that can totally satisfy in all respects though, and it's a credit to King Hu that even one of his lesser works comes close.

Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: hkcinema
Date: 12/08/1999

Chu Wan is named governor of a local province and asked to wipe out Japanese pirates who are attacking the local area. He hires Ya Ta-Tu to fight the local pirates. Wu Chi Yuan (aka "whirlwind") is a superior swordsman who also helps out (so does his beautiful wife who is not only great with a sword, but also with a bow and arrow. The leader of the Japanese pirates is Hakatatsu is played by Samo Hung (does not show up until late in the movie). Overall the movie is quite good with some good fights. There are parts where its a little slow, but overall I would recommend it.


[Reviewed by Adam Scott Pritzker]

Reviewed by: hkcinema
Date: 12/08/1999

In the latter years of the Ming dynasty, Ming warriors on thesouth coast of China face Chinese-Japanese pirates. Military attacks on the pirates are expensive and ineffective and the weak emperor Jiaqing sends the strategist Yu Dayou to the arena to find a peaceful end to the conflict. Yu Dayou however finds out that a local functionary is conspiring with the pirates. A member of Yu's staff, Wu, and his wife Ruoshi (Hsu Feng), pretend to be mercenaries wanting to betray Yu and penetrate to the headquarters of the pirates. The pirates are then cleverly lured into an ambush. Zhonglie Tu was shot entirely on location. The fights were filmed with a circling camera, ensuring an incredible control of space. The film hardly has any dialogue, giving the mysterious and abstract mood of the film an extra dimension.

[Reviewed by Anonymous]