Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival kicked into gear with the screening of the kung fu comedy Gallants on Tuesday night. If film festivals were judged solely on their opening night films then the Reel Asian Film Fest would already be considered a success. Not only did the film deliver on the chopsocky laughs, but it also set the stage for the quality of films to be expected over the next seven days.
Directed by Clement Cheng and Derek Kwok, with Hong Kong film star Andy Lau serving as executive producer, Gallants is a homage to the Shaw Brothers kung fu classics of the ‘70s. The film follows Cheung (Yue-Nam Wong), a spineless real estate agent, as he tries to secure property rights for his company. Through a series of unfortunate events, Cheung stumbles upon a tea house run by two old martial artists, Tiger (Bruce Leung) and Dragon (Chen Kuan-Tai). The tea house was once a mighty martial arts school before it fell on hard times. With their teacher, Mast Law (Teddy Robin), in a coma for the past three decades, Tiger and Dragon are pressured by a rival gym boss, Master Pong (Wai-man Chan), and his assistant, Mang (Jin Auyeung aka MC Jin), to hand over the lease to the tea house. Mang also has a personal score to settle with Chueng that stems back to their childhood days. Miraculously Master Law awakens from his coma and decides to enter Tiger, Dragon, and Cheung in Master Pong’s fighting tournament. The competition will ultimately decide their fate, and that of the tea house, once and for all.
Shot in a mere 18 days, the fact that Gallants consistently hits the mark in regards to both comedy and action is a testament to the hard work from all involved in making the film. Directors Clement Cheng and Derek Kwok take great care to ensure that Gallants is not just a nod to kung fu films of the past, but a film that also stands on its own as well. No matter how screwball the comedy gets at times, the story never suffers. Cheng and Kwok ensure that every aspect of the plot ties together. Even miniscule elements, such as the running gag involving a preserved roasted duck, never feel out of place in the film.
Gallants is one of the rare modern action comedies where style does not overshadow the film. For example, the use of animation is subtle and effective. As is the film’s use of character introduction titles, sound effects, and voiceovers that are scattered throughout the film. I was pleasantly surprised by Cheng and Kwok’s restraint when it came to the fight scenes. Most modern directors rely heavily on quick edits to enhance the action, yet Gallants let the action speak for itself. When fights occur, the audience is able to fully observe the fluid moves, and years of experience, that Bruce Leung and Chen Kuan-Tai bring to the picture.
Speaking of Bruce Leung and Chen Kuan-Tai, their comedic timing is almost as flawless as their martial art moves. They consistently keep the humour level high even during the occasional times where the films pacing slows down. The only person who is able to match Leung and Kaun-Tai’s performances is Teddy Robin, who is wonderful as the womanizing Master Law. Teddy Robin manages to steal almost every scene he is in. Whether he is confusing Cheung with two other people at the same time, hitting on women, or partying in shady bars, Robin’s Master Law frequently garners huge laughs from the audience.
Although some will compare the film to the equally entertaining Kung Fu Hustle, Gallants is a film that successfully carves out its own path. Gallants is a film that offers both satisfying action and laugh out loud comedy.