Film Review: The Valiant Ones (1975) 影評《忠烈圖》- The Best King Hu Wuxia Film and His Creative Meme

Updated: May 30

#FilmReview #TheValiantOnes #影評 #忠烈圖

FILE PHOTO: A Still Image of THE VALIANT ONES (1975). ©HongKong King Hu Film Production
FILE PHOTO: A Still Image of THE VALIANT ONES (1975). ©HongKong King Hu Film Production

忠烈圖》(1975; Dir. 胡金銓) My Favourite film of both Sammo Hung and King Hu

Dir. King Hu (1931-1997) was and still is one of the best wuxia film/ Kung Fu film masters in Chinese film industries especially both Hong Kong and Taiwan where he mainly made master pieces. For instance, you must see Come Drink with Me (大醉俠, 1966); Dragon Inn (龍門客棧, pre-production in Hong Kong; 1967); A Touch of Zen (俠女, 1971); The Fate of Lee Khan (迎春閣之風波, 1973); The Valiant Ones (忠烈圖, 1975); Raining in the Mountain (空山靈雨, 1979) and Legend of the Mountain (山中傳奇, 1979).

Like John Woo, He learned his film editing and film construction from Sergei Eisenstein mainly at Hong Kong Film Archive. And his filmmaking was influenced by Akira Kurosawa, Sergio Leone and Terence Young's 007 series in general. King Hu was and still is the most innovative filmmaker in the Chinese film history. The other prominent film master of this genre is Chang Cheh (1923-2002). Both of them were Hong Kong based filmmakers and represent technological and creative advancements of Hong Kong filmmaking.

Some pro-Taiwan cinema critics intend to define King Hu and his wuxia master pieces as pure MADE IN TAIWAN stuffs. That is pure nonsense at all. Not only David Bordwell (1) and Teo, Stephen (2) 's statements pointed out that production nature and the origin of his works (Roots in Hong Kong Cinema), but also aesthetically his editing solutions and memes are not typical features of Taiwan cinema until today. It clearly belongs to Hong Kong cinema. (Note: native Hong Kong critics should do their own historical research and theoretical work to defend their own cultural achievements instead of playing politics. It's your duty.)

In 1960s, Taiwan was under KMT's film style policy Health Realist Cinema which was a gimmick of neo-realismo for the KMT Mandarine policy; and the early 1970s had continued it before Anti Japan propaganda war film campaign started. It marked by the famous (???) war film Victory (a.k.a. Mei Hua; 1976). We cannot see common practice of King Hu's creative solutions in cinema among any Taiwan films. In fact, the vast majority of film casts and crews were from Hong Kong. The film root is undeniably Hong Kong. Although they can still state that some Taiwan companies financed it, Taiwan actors and crews attended the production process, they cannot exclude the Hong Kong origin of King Hu's film production. One sidedness must be criticised and mentioned.

The Valiant Ones (1975) depicts how Ming Dynasty deals with Wokou, Japanese-Chinese pirates (the main composition was Chinese pirates in reality) by sending special forces led by the general Yu Da-you (Roy Chiao played) in 1200s. This film wisely avoided the territorial dispute of Diaoyu Islands between Japan and China. You Da-you was legendarily told to protect the disputed sea and islands from pirates and any foreign invasion. This point is pretty vague in this film. Anyway, King Hu actually avoided any cinematic conclusion to this grave political issue. A practically right attitude towards the conflict. As the result, this film did not become a propaganda, the cinema also did not fall in the political trap.

In film editorial aspects, I have to mention three major features of this film that show both King Hu's most sophisticated editing techniques and creativity that Taiwan cinema does not possess.

Film and any Artistic Solutions are Memes

1. Cinematic solutions of Time and Space

''Cutting off unnecessary time and space freely but follows match cutting principles.''

Amateur film editing is just synchronising actions and real time but a real cinema craftsman like King Hu freely cut off unnecessary time and space for audience, and at the same time it creates certain rhythm and smoothness.

For example, the film time line at around 44:00. Wu Jiyuan (Ying Bai) and his student's walking conversation sequence shows this kind of creative thinking of how to cut time and space in a cinematic way.

Figure 1.1 A typical single camera work that action match from a previous medium shot of both of them to cut into a wider shot. It follows live action, and the wider shot eases discontinuity for the single camera op. Two of them walk toward camera to frame out.

Figure 1.1

Figure 1.2 The action and positioning of both characters just follow the continuity of its own however the background drastically changes in the wider shot. Again, a wide shot can ease discontinuity that caused by single camera op, and single camera work tends to distract perspective axis among shots that mainly followed by multi-camera operation. Thus the angle is not exactly the same from the previous shot, it is acutely different.

Figure 1.2

Figure 1.3 They keep their continuous action from the previous shots, and King Hu cut it to the closer shot by following the same angle, in other words, keep truck on the axis to smoothly cut into the next closer shot. In single camera op, this works, too. We cannot see background of this actual medium close shot.

Figure 1.3

Figure 1.4 In this wider shot that follows the previous shot prevails its different background however their action is continued in single camera work. And these shots are dealt by the continuous sound cuts. Again, a wider shot can ease discontinuity among single camera shots. Time and space were efficiently cut off by King Hu in this way. This way of editing is what we have to achieve as filmmakers.

Figure 1.4

The Use of Trampoline and Dynamic Horizontal Photography

''Quick Pans and Repetitive dashes in Action Sequence''

Quick actions are accompanied by quick cuts that 007 series perfectly practiced. King Hu evaluated further in his films. King Hu mainly used single camera however complicated scenes were dealt by multi cameras. However jumping shots, single shots and close ups are typically separably shot including his famous trampoline actions repeated in one of the sequences in this film. Such as the time line at around 1:34:00. A battle between Yu Da-you and Xu Dong. These trampoline close ups are accompanied by quick pans that follow repetitive dashes of Xu Dong, and wide screen is fully used when the camera trucks Yu Da-you's horizontal responses. King Hu's editing is based on dynamic camera work like this. This forest scene is more advanced than A Touch of Zen (俠女, 1971). Remember Eisenstein's editing was based on majorities of fixed shots that made in 5 to 6 multi cameras simultaneously. Later years, Eisenstein shot his talky films in multi cameras but they were still mostly still shots. Even though Alexander Nevsky (1938) contained some dynamic shots including handheld shots and dolly shots in the battle field sequence, it still cannot change his rate of vast majorities of still shots. Eisenstein created dynamism of imageries mainly by editing with still shots. King Hu is slightly different.

Figure 2.1-2.7 The series of trampoline kicks are repeated for 12 times relentlessly. The close up tracks Xu Dong's dash; Xu Dong's trampoline kick; another angle shot of the hit; Yu Da-you's reaction that shot by pan and zoom out. It's called a smash cut in terms of film editing which is mainly used in kung fu films.

Figure 2.1
Figure 2.2
Figure 2.3
Figure 2.4
Figure 2.5
Figure 2.6
Figure 2.7

This figure 2.7 is a separate shot from the previous one. It can prove that separating one action scene into various reverse shots can secure our editorial continuity and create more tensioned montage. It is also typical in 007 series at that time. The separation of the space and action parts is carefully and throughly done much more than ordinary films.

Quick Cuts in Reverse Shots

The last sequence battle between Wu Jiyuan and Hakatatsu are synthesis of King Hu editorial features that include trampoline shots. Front reverse angle shots with quick sword actions between them that reach the maximum tension of the battle. Furthermore like Eisenstein, these reverse shots are handheld shots. The time line at around 1:43:00. It starts. Besides this, I have to mention that some two shots used Wu Jiyuan's stunt doubles to enhance its choreography more speedy. Wired actions, Trampoline jumps, Quick pans, Quick Zooms, sound cuts, handheld shots etc. You can see everything in that sequence. See Figure 3.1-3.6 below:

Figure 3.1 Stunt doubles of Wu Jiyuan used for foreground and back ground
Figure 3.1 Stunt doubles of Wu Jiyuan used for foreground and background

Figure 3.2 A Handheld Reverse Shot/ POV

Figure 3.3 A Handheld Reverse Shot/ POV

Figure 3.4 A Trampoline Jump Shot / POV/ Reverse Angle Shot

Figure 3.5 A Handheld Shot With High Angle And Quick Zoom . Also A POV Shot

Figure 3.6 A Wired Action/ POV/ Reverse Shot

In conclusion, The Valient Ones (1975) is not only synthesis of King Hu's wuxia film aesthetic achievements during 1966-1975, but also it's politically mature filmmaking that King Hu consciously avoided making this film as propaganda. For Japanese audiences, no one can find such brilliant sward-skilled samurai in Japanese films including Akira Kurosawa films. It is no doubt that The Valient Ones (1975) is the best King Hu film.

A Direct Interview and FACE TO FACE At HKIFF43 2019

FILE PHOTO: The left is HK critic Lam Chiu-wing (林超榮) and the right is Sammo Hung(洪金寶)©Ryota Nakanishi
FILE PHOTO: The left is a HK critic Lam Chiu-wing (林超榮) and the right is Sammo Hung(洪金寶)©Ryota Nakanishi

The Valiant Ones (1975) and Sammo Hung

I personally attended the film master class ''FILMMAKER In FORCUS: SAMMO HUNG'' held by the 43rd. Hong Kong International Film Festival 2019 at Hong Kong Cultural Grand Theatre on March 30, 2019 as part of international film cultural interaction with the film master and cinema fans.

Although Sammo Hung was in charge of action choreography of the most famous King Hu wuxia film master pieces to the certain extent, also he played villain roles during battle sequences, and his major role in King Hu films was the antagonist Hakatatsu who is a leader of Japanese pirates in the film. The Variant Ones is so important among all Sammo Hung action choreographically works for King Hu that this film is his first major role in this field of filmmaking.

King Hu Wuxia films Were Basically Shot by Single Camera Operation

According to Sammo Hung's testimonies about the production of this film, King Hu used single camera to shoot specific actions in each shot, he did not exactly repeat the same actions. Actor Sammo Hung mentioned one of his typical single camera shooting episodes that when King Hu shot the high angle shot of Wu Jiyuan (played by Ying Bai 白鷹), King Hu not only shot it from a 6 meter high place, he also had shot only that action repeatedly from 9 am to 6 pm in the unknown island of Ninepin Group, Hong Kong. If he shot it in multiple cameras, he would have not spent so much time on the same kind of action of Ying Bai.

This is the shot that King Hu had spent one day to shoot just only this action in single camera op.
This is the shot that King Hu had spent one day to shoot just only this action in single camera op.

Sammo Hung himself thinks that genuine action films of Hong Kong culture were dead already due to no one is able to do kung fu sequences without stunt doubles. This does not like his generation. From the choreographer's viewpoint, this feeling is deeper than the audience because they directly know the technical background of kung fu scenes made by different generations. Fake ''kung fu masters'' that helped and even created by stunt doubles are not supposed to be genuinely talented people.

Sammo Hung introduced his role Hakatatsu who was played without stunt doubles. He said he put on the heavy costume of the Japanese pirate and had to jump from the cliff by himself. The result is that ''Only can see the shadow of it but it's a respectable decision made by the director King Hu.''