The Valiant Ones

The Valiant Ones (Zhong lie tu) (1975)

The Valiant Ones (Zhong lie tu) is available on Blu-ray from 27 May via Eureka! Video

“We didn’t know we were in the same line of business,” says a brigand who, posing as a mobile drink vendor, turns on his customers in the woods, only to be outfought by them and overpowered. In fact Colonel Yu Da-you (Roy Chiao) and his small crew of fighters are not rival brigands at all, but rather working for General Zhu Wan (Tu Kuang-chi) to infiltrate and destroy the Japanese wokou pirates (led by Sammo Hung in heavy white make-up) who have been plaguing the coastlines of Ming China — but like their quarry they employ strategies of subterfuge, imposture and entrapment, even as the incompetently ‘fatuous’ Emperor Jiajang and the corrupt courtiers who serve him make it difficult to distinguish the good from the bad.

Though a sweeping wuxia, full of masterful martial arts and epic spectacle, The Valiant Ones (Zhong lie tu) unfolds in a world of illusion. Amid the sting operations, double-crosses and masquerades, ultimately all that defines Yu, and the married martial artists Ji-yuan (Wing Bai) and Ruo-shi (Feng Hsu), is their actions, and their refusal, except in pretence, to compromise. It is a cynical swan song to King Hu’s Golden Age of filmmaking, suggesting that these characters’ heroism has no place in a reality that leaves them at best demoted, at worst forgotten in death.

strap: King Hu’s Ming-era wuxia epic all at once celebrates valour while questioning its place in a corrupted world of illusion