Dirty Ho (1979) November 17, 2010Posted by Cal in : Comedy, 1970s films, Kung Fu , trackback
Director: Lau Kar-Leung Starring: Wong Yu; Lau Kar-Fai; Lo Lieh; Johnny Wang; Wilson Tong Territory: Hong Kong
I’m astounded to discover that in all the years I’ve been writing about East Asian films that I’ve never done a review for this film. This is even stranger considering the fact that I watch it fairly regularly and the film’s relative high-profile status as a bit of a kung-fu classic.
Dirty Ho pairs a Manchu prince as the main protagonist (yes, you read that right) with a jewellery thief with a good heart. The former plays a game of one-uppmanship with the young scoundrel at a brothel, both using their monetary muscle to woo the ladies. From there, the two form an unlikely friendship after Ho mistakenly believes he’s been poisoned by one of Wong’s courtesans and must rely on the Manchu’s rare medicine to save his life. In fact, Wong poisoned the youngster himself, and needs the help of a good-hearted man to thwart a plot by one of his brothers to assassinate him.
In 1979, after the success of Yuen Woo-Ping’s Drunken Master, everyone was churning out kung fu comedies with varying degrees of success. Personally, I’ve never been very taken with the type of comedy used in Shaw Brothers films, and there are more than a few moments during Dirty Ho where you wonder what the hell is supposed to be so funny. But there are a few laughs to be had along the way, including a scene parodying the One-Armed Swordsman character. But it’s the scenes in which Wong is invited to high-society meetings that provide the most laughs. Disguised as art collectors and antique dealers, these assassins attempt to kill off Wong while observing social etiquette, and Wong reciprocates by keeping up the illusion of cordial civility while counterattacking.
I have to admit that the sheen of greatness has worn off this classic a little for me, but I still enjoy some parts. The ambush scene that takes place in a wind-strewn deserted town bowled me over the first time I saw it on VHS and it still impresses me now. You are guaranteed a certain level of competence with Lau Kar-Leung’s fight choreography, and he doesn’t let down for the most part. I still feel that the ending, after a climactic fight that I feel goes on too long, is a disappointment. On one hand, I like the fact that the “bigger picture” is left unresolved, but on the other, I am left disappointed that the whole thing gets wrapped up so abruptly. Having said all that, there’s no denying Dirty Ho’s status as a kung fu classic, and it is still one of the more memorable films from the period.