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  Dirty Ho Gordon Light Foot
Year: 1979
Director: Lau Kar-Leung
Stars: Wong Yue, Gordon Liu, Lo Lieh, Wang Lung-Wei, Hsaio Hou, Wilson Tong, Chan Lung, Chan Ming-Wai, Chen Szu-Chia, Cheung Wing-Hon, Chiang Han, Chin Tien-Chu, Ching Miao, Fung Ming, Ho Biao-Hsing, Ho Chi-Chang, Ho Chi Wei, Huang Pa-Ching, Kara Hui
Genre: Comedy, Martial ArtsBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: It's another pleasant evening on a pleasure boat in Southern China, where the wine merchant Mr Wang (Gordon Liu) is entertaining a couple of ladies who work there, but he is wondering why there are not more gathered around when he obviously has a lot of cash to flash. The reason is Mr Ho (Wong Yue) who has exactly the same idea, and he has more obvious taels of gold to impress the ladies with, handing them out like candy. That's because the money is not technically his, he has stolen it and a jewellery box in his possession, and compared to the gentlemanly Mr Wang is is more uncouth... but will they clash?

Of course they'll clash, and then they'll team up for Dirty Ho was actually a buddy movie from the era where such a genre was truly about to explode in the nineteen-eighties, though there it would be cops who would populate it. Liu and Wong made a great combination, however, with the former being one of Shaw Brothers' biggest seventies stars in the wake of Bruce Lee's untimely demise, before Jackie Chan arrived on the scene with his own blockbusting vehicles. Though Liu's popularity would never be the same after that, he retained a loyal following and was recalled warmly enough to be included in Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill.

But his Hong Kong movies were so much better than the Tarantino efforts, because they showed him off to his best advantage, say what you like about Run Run Shaw, he could create genuine star vehicles for his roster of talent, and Dirty Ho gave Liu some of his most complex and humorous fight choreography, which naturally he was more than a match for. Technically Dirty Ho was a comedy, and after the nineties gangsta rap explosion you imagine there would be a lot of titters about its title, which made it sound somewhat unsavoury; however, the Ho was Wong's character, and the "dirty" moniker was thanks to the infected head wound he acquires.

This necessitates Wong sporting a bandage for almost all his scenes after a third of the way in, which if nothing else exhibited the star's lack of vanity, though Ho was supposed to be a somewhat rough-hewn chap who Wang adopts in a Pygmalion-style to refine his manners and of course serve up a selection of training scenes (the one thing they don't do is fall in love with each other, so it doesn't go the full Professor Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle on us). Wang is actually a secret identity, as he is a prince from the North, travelling through the South mostly to avoid being assassinated by the henchmen of the General out for his blood, played by the ever-fearsome-looking Lo Lieh. But as the aged Emperor plans to name his successor, Wang will have to return.

The plot was all very well, but it was the combat you were here for, and it did not disappoint. Under the direction of Lau Kar-Leung, Liu's brother, and placed in a selection of impressive sets, the fighting was splendidly choreographed, as they were wholly aware of what the stars could achieve and were not about to allow them to coast through this one. Early on Kara Hui showed up to be used as a puppet of sorts by Wang in a teahouse brawl, as Wang does not wish to show his hand about his abilities with kung fu, and it was this intricate movement, which must have demanded extreme concentration and co-ordination from everyone involved, that had you sitting back in admiration. The hits kept coming: an encounter with the Seven Agonies, or a brawl in a disintegrating town where a whole army division shows up to attack our protagonists, Wang now in a wheelchair, were equally superb, but the best was saved for last, a full-on battle with Lo seeing off the story with enormous flair. Music by Eddie Wang.

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Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Lau Kar-Leung  (1934 - 2013)

Chinese director and actor and one of the most influential martial arts film-makers of the 1970s. Kar-Leung joined the Shaw Brothers studio in 1965 where he worked as an actor and fight choreographer, before making his directing debut in 1975 with the kung fu comedy The Spiritual Boxer. A series of martial arts classics followed, including 36th Chamber of Shaolin, Shaolin Mantis, Dirty Ho, Mad Monkey Kung Fu and My Young Auntie. Kar-Leung was a strong believer that fight sequences should be shot in single, wide shots to showcase the natural skill of the martial artists, which was at odds with those directors who prefered wirework and fast editing.

Kar-Leung continued to direct throughout the eighties, with period films like Shaolin Temple, starring a young Jet Li, and modern-day action flicks Tiger on the Beat and its sequel. In 1994, worked as fight arranger on Jackie Chan's Drunken Master II, but was controversially sacked from the production when his methods clashed with Chan's. In retaliation, he directed his own Drunken Master 3 later the same year. Kar-Leung's last film was 2002's old-fashioned Drunken Monkey, once more for Shaw Brothers.

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