Two Films by John Woo, A Master in the Making
Continuing their stellar output of classic Eastern cinema, Eureka Classics has released two largely unseen early works from Hong Kong filmmaking legend John Woo, Last Hurrah For Chlvalry and Hand of Death, available for the first time on Blu-ray from brand new 2K restorations.
Most film fans will know, years before his mainstream Hollywood work in Hard Target, Broken Arrow and Face/Off, Woo’s most celebrated output came from Hong Kong in the Chow Yun Fat fronted classics A Better Tomorrow, The KIller and Hard Boiled, to name a few. But long before that, he was honing his skills making films for Shaw Brothers and Golden Harvest studios, real institutions in the history books of cinema.
During these formative years, he was experimenting with action filmmaking techniques and exploring ideas that would become central to his work - strong moral themes of brotherhood, loyalty and betrayal - forming staples of his entire career. This double-bill comprises two such films…
Looked at chronologically, in Hand of Death (1976), a young Shaolin monk (Tan Tao Liang, The Hot, the Cool and the Vicious) must train to defeat a dangerous Manchu warlord (James Tien, The Big Boss) who wants to wipe out the Shaolin. Finding allies along the way, a new band of heroes must team-up to defeat their common enemy.
Notably, this film boasts (technically) the first onscreen collaboration between the future three kung fu brothers or “lucky stars”, Jackie Chan (in a supporting role), Sammo Hung (as the second main villain) and Yuen Biao (as a stuntman). The trio would go on to change the martial arts movie landscape with Winners and Sinners, Project A and Dragons Forever, among others, so it’s a significant moment seeing them brought together, on the same project, for the first time.
In Last Hurrah for Chivalry (1979), two killers for hire (Pai Wei, Five Deadly Venoms and Damian Lau, Duel to the Death) agree to aid a helpless man exact vengeance upon a dangerous kung fu master. Made in tribute to Woo’s filmmaking mentor at Shaw Brothers, Chang Cheh, surprisingly the film didn’t perform particularly well at the box office but is now seen as a significant genre title of the 1970’s and certainly helped Woo continue evolving his signature style and story themes, perhaps even more so than Hand of Death.
Looking truly cinematic and better than ever, the release features the following extras and tech specs:
1080p presentation of both films from brand new 2K restorations
Cantonese, Mandarin and English audio options, and optional English subtitles
Brand new audio commentaries on both films by Mike Leeder and Arne Venema
Archival interviews with director John Woo
Reversible inlay featuring original poster artwork
Limited Edition Collector s booklet featuring new writing by film writer Matthew Thrift
Still being hugely enjoyable and well-crafted films in their own right, these carry a great deal of historical significance. This is important not only for Woo’s own stylistic evolution, but also represents the budding careers of future stars. Though I’m a bigger fan of Woo’s “heroic bloodshed” films of the 1980’s, my personal favourite being A Better Tomorrow, hindsight is a wonderful thing and the early DNA of a master storyteller at work totally shines through here.
Last Hurrah For Chivalry & Hand Of Death: Two Films By John Woo is out now from Eureka Entertainment