The way I describe Jimmy Wang Yu, one of the first breakthrough martial arts film stars, is that before he was an actor he was a champion swimmer. As a celluloid martial artist he looks like... a swimmer. Yeah, he wasn't that good when it came to convincing fight scenes. No grace like Jet Li. No acrobatic bravado like Jackie Chan. No simmering intensity like Bruce Lee. Jimmy was all flailing, stiff arms and half bent leg kicks. But he had some charisma and dedication, so he proved how even a swimmer can manage a decent film career.
1974's Knight Errant finds Jimmy in the role of Taiwanese cab driver Huo-Shan. While he is an all around nice guy and not exactly Travis Bickle, Huo-Shan is hot-tempered and prone to getting into fights. This has led to his cash strapped father doling out to pay for the hospital bills of the people Huo-Shan has injured. Most of the families money is being put away for an eye operation to restore the sight of Huo-Shan's sister.
But, they end up having worse things to worry about than bills and eye surgery. During WW2 occupation, dad was assigned to assist a Japanese officer and conspired in the breakout of a jailed rebel. The officer was so ashamed he committed seppuku. The officer's widowed martial master wife dedicated the rest of her days to raising their three sons for one sole purpose- REVENGE!
Jimmy Wang Yu's career with the Shaw Bros really helped put them on the map in the late 60's. Kung fu films as we came to know them, were heavily defined by his films with Chang Cheh like The Chinese Boxer and The One-Armed Swordsman. Not content just to be some contract player, in the early 70's Jimmy went independent and began to produce/direct/star in his own films. So, though he was no Gordon Lui or Sammo Hung, he was still a forward thinking guy who controlled his career and thus his martial film legacy.
My memory of this film was that it was pretty bad. However when rewatching it on this DVD, it is actually pretty good, another example of a film that got lost in the glut of martial titles I've seen over the years. It was probably less impressive due to my oringally viewing it on a no doubt cropped, dirty, less than legit vhs source.
Kight Errant is not exactly A-list material, but it has plenty of charm due to some funky 70's fashions and wonky camerawork. Not being a period film, it opens itself up to less martial scrutiny, therefore Jimmy can get away with his sloppy moves. The fighting is pretty rough and tumble dirty. Jimmy even does some awkward stuff like a part double leg drop thing where he basically falls, ass first, onto his opponent. God help me, I love it!
While a lot of the time is spent focusing on Jimmy and his family, be it his trying to avoid fighting or courting his girlfriend, when the villains finally get over their slow crawl start to their revenge scheme going the movie really picks up. The main leader of the trio of brothers is the great Yasuaki Kurata (Heros of the East) and his backup man is another familiar face, Lung Fei. But, the real whopper and the thing a chop socky fan cannot forget is the mother, billed by the English credits only as "LADY WITH A IRON FIST." After her sons fail to kill off Jimmy's father and get beaten down by our badass cabbie, she sets out to avenge the loss of her husband and sons personally. It is a bizarre one. I mean, imagine if you had to fight a scarred, nearly superhuman karate master version of Zelda Rubinstein, the dwarf psychic lady from Poltergeist. Yep, it is just that weird.
The DVD: Pathfinder
Picture: Anamorphic Widescreen. Ehhh, it is a little dirty and rough, though still in pretty good shape. Pathfinder take a pretty dirty and spotty print and at least give it a slight makeover; though if it were a car, you'd be seeing some bondo. While it has some blemishes and tint/color control issues, it is a well-rounded transfer. Colors and sharpness are pretty vibrant and crisp. The contrast, in particular, is quite well rendered with nice deep blacks. Even in the various darkly lit interior scenes, like the finale, no details get lost. Technically it is a tad glitchy with some compression artefacts but remains a worthwhile transfer.
Sound: Mandarin or English 2-Channel. Optional English subtitles. Now, I may call myself a purist and blast all of the remastered martial arts DVD audio tracks and cry over only wanting the original language... but, I gotta' admit, I love the old school English dubs. While the 70's English dubbing gave chop socky its "I killed your master- Ha!-ha!" rep that some kung fu fans bemoan, I still like them because that is how I grew up watching kung fu films.
So, I'm glad Pathfinder included a Mandarin and English dub in their tinny glory complete with shrill sound fx, slightly muffled vocals, and cheesy score. The subtitles are okay. Confusingly they are semi-true to the English dub, though there are some minor differences (aside from spelling mistakes) that make them not quite dub-titles.
Extras: Trailer-- Bios-- Still Gallery-- Wang Yu Interview (11:16). Great interview with Jimmy proving to have a very lucid memory, recounting many things about the film, including his surprising method acting study for his role by being a cabbie for a week.-- Audio Commentary by "Boxoffice Magazine" writers Wade Major and Tim Cogshell. Those familiar with their commentary on Pathfinder's Master of the Flying Guillotine DVD will find much of the same tone with the duo waxing about general kung fu film and innacurate star facts- misinformative for non-fans and an annoyance for kung fu film junkies.
Conclusion: A decent kung fu b-film given a decent transfer. Yeah, it is cheesy, silly, and clumsy, but like Wang Yu's awful cowlick or a puppy that farts a lot, that is just part of its charm. For fans, dive-in and enjoy it as some popcorn and beer fun.