Ode to Gallantry (1982) might entertain viewers fond of Five Venom actors. But unlikely so, for fans of Louis Cha’s novel.
Ode to Gallantry (俠客行) Synopsis
Based on the Louis Cha novel of the same name, Ode to Gallantry depicts the misadventures of Gouzazhong i.e., Mongrel, a simple-minded beggar who chances upon the coveted black iron tablet. Kidnapped by the fearsome Xie Yanke, Mongrel subsequently acquires astonishing skills, before he is spirited away to assume leadership of the notorious Changle Sect. Luckily for the simpleton, though, it soon becomes clear that everything is a case of mistaken identity. With some luck, Mongrel might ultimately uncover his real identity. The kind-hearted young man might even be reunited with his long-lost family.
So many things went wrong, for me, with this adaptation of Louis Cha’s 1966 novel. But I should first talk about the source material.
One of the famed Wuxia writer’s shorter stories, Ode to Gallantry, or Xiake Xing, stands apart from Cha’s other works in many ways.
To repeat, it’s short. The story is also straightforward and with no notable historical background.
The novel was furthermore written with a heavy satirical hand, positively Shakespearean in many ways. (The writer ever acknowledged he was inspired by Twelfth Night) For readers fussy about logic, the big reveal about the truth of Gallant Island (Xiake Dao; 侠客岛) would no doubt feel nonsensical too. I felt so when I read the novel in the 90s.
Coming back to the movie, my one-line summary for this Shaw Bros kung-fu adaptation is: it’s another case of The Battle Wizard bizarreness. While the movie retains the key trope of mistaken identity, it entirely removes everything and anything about Gallant Island. To facilitate a quick wrap-up, a fresh conspiracy involving some sort of demonic sect is also scripted in.
Doing so might have been an attempt to condense the tale. As I highlighted above, the bits about Gallant Island are tough to swallow too, even for Wuxia fantasy. So the changes might have been to “temper” the story.
Regardless, the omission of the key chapters removes so much of the mythical ambience that was the life of the original story. What’s left is then made drier by the weird fact that for a “kung-fu” movie, there are preciously few fights in this show.
Apart from the extended sequence that hastily wraps up the movie, one could even say there are no noteworthy fights at all. What’s with that?!?
Lastly, and I really loathe to say this, Kuo Chui (Philip Kwok) is unsuitable for the role of Mongrel. Known as Shi Potian in the novel.
He works hard. His acrobatic prowess impresses too. But in his early 30s when this was filmed, he just doesn’t come across as an adolescent. It doesn’t help that the movie specifically mentions his character’s young age at a key moment.
Adorable as his silly grins and chuckles might be for his fans, I found them absurd. In a lot of cases, unbearably inane too.
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