Shaw Bros. kung fu superstar Gordon Liu plays a sneaky businessman named Wang who gets no small amount of satisfaction out of bothering Ho Chi (Yu Huang) who makes his living stealing jewels. Wang is not only a business man though, he's got some important family ties (and not the Keaton kind either) in that he's the eleventh son of the current Emperor of China and as such is an actual heir to the throne – big things may potentially lay ahead for this man. The two men have a fairly friendly rivalry (though there is certainly no love lost between the two of them – it's more like they tolerate each other when they have to) and when we're first introduced to them, they're competing for the affections of a lovely lady at a local watering hole.
When Wang offers her money and Ho offers her jewels, their rivalry becomes a little less friendly than it was and the two begin sparring with one another. Some local soldiers happen upon the scene and promptly try and arrest the pair of troublemakers but Wang talks his way out of trouble and offers the soldiers enough money that he's able to convince them to let Ho go as well.
After the two find themselves in trouble again for beating up a gang of crippled men who were in all actuality a group of con artists, and having to once more bribe the authorities into letting them go, Wang figures he and Ho would make a good team and he offers him a job. Ho, not wanting to have to answer to his rival, declines and once more the two get into a scrap which results in Ho's defeat. A blow to the head results in a massive welt, and Ho heads off to the doctor's to get it looked at and it's here that he finds out someone has poisoned him. Ho, of course, figures it was Wang who did the dirty deed and so he heads over to talk to him in order to get the antidote. Wang gives Ho an ultimatum – he can either accept a position as his student or he can die from the poison. With no other choice, Ho agrees.
While all of this is going on, the evil General Liang (Lo Lieh) has aims of killing off the eleventh prince, as he's the heir to the throne. Sadly for him, the prince is in hiding but he devises a clever scheme to bring him out of hiding with a wine tasting competition, as he knows that wine is his weakness. Of course, Wang shows up with Ho in tow to sample the wine and the men working the exhibition turn out to be assassins. A fight breaks out, but Wang and Ho make short work of their opponents in no time at all. This first set back convinces General Liang to put on an antiques exhibition, again to draw Wang back out to make an attempt on his life. This time, Wang ends up getting stabbed and his injuries are serious enough that he's no longer able to fight. With Wang incapacitated, Ho takes it upon himself to learn Wang's kung fu and get revenge for him against General Liang and help him get to the palace where he can rightfully claim what is his birthright.
The fight scenes in Dirty Ho don't even come close to matching the intensity of some of Liu's other films like 36th Chamber Of Shaolin and especially 8 Diagram Pole Fighter the film still gives the man ample opportunity to show of his martial skills and he and Yu Huang have a very good on screen chemistry together.
Directed by Chia Liang-Liu, who also helmed 36th Chamber Of Shaolin and Drunken Master II, the film moves along at a good pace and more often than not the comedy works very well with the action, rather than against it. None of the humor feels out of place in the context of the story and when things do get a little darker towards the end of the movie, it isn't jarring at all but rather it feels like a natural progression for the characters. The film also benefits greatly from far stronger than average (for a martial arts film, at least) character development that the two male leads are very good at playing up. Their performances are quite good and the director is savvy enough to let them do their thing rather than overshadow them with flashy technique or ham-fisted plot devices. The end result is a thoroughly enjoyable kung fu comedy with some high quality fight scenes and a truly enticing storyline.
Worth noting is that it appears that the titles in the opening of the film have been recreated for this DVD - a rather puzzling decision.
The 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer on this DVD runs circles around the domestic release that Ground Zero released back in 2001. Aside from the added bonus of anamorphic enhancement, this release from Celestial/IVL boast a much stronger color scheme, way less print damage, and noticeably stronger black levels. For a budget release, the Ground Zero DVD wasn't half bad but compared to this new disc, it's no contest. Flesh tones look dead on in their accuracy and aside from some minor edge enhancement there aren't any notable problems. Mpeg compression artifacts are non-existent and there's no color bleeding or fuzziness present on the image.
You've got your choice of watching the film in either a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix in Mandarin or a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix in Mandarin. Optional subtitles are available in English and traditional Chinese. Unfortunately, once again the original Mono track is missing from the release. The good news is that Celestial hasn't tampered with too much in the 5.1 mix. Some ambient and background noises have been added to a few scenes but other than that this one doesn't sound too manufactured or forced, especially when you compare it to some of the other releases in their Shaw Bros. line that have been severely tampered with and sound like completely different movies. As far as the quality of the audio, surround issues aside, dialogue is clean and clear and there aren't really any distortion or hiss problems in the mix. The subtitles have one or two minor typographical errors but nothing too jarring.
Celestial has included the original theatrical trailer for Dirty Ho, a poster reproduction, and the six minute Elegant Trails: Gordon Liu Chia Hiu which is an interesting look at Gordon Liu's second life as a Chinese rock star. Gordon answers some questions about his career and even treats us to some of his music. If this sounds familiar, it should, as this segment has appeared on a couple of other Celestial Shaw Bros. releases which feature Gordon Liu in a prominent role.
While it's hardly a special edition in terms of extra features and the continuous exclusion of the original audio on their releases is a real drag, Celestial/IVL's remastered release of Dirty Ho is a huge improvement over the mediocre region one release and the film is all sorts of fun from start to finish. Gordon Liu fans should be all over this one and anyone who appreciates kung fu/comedy hybrid films should get a kick out of this one. Highly recommended!
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.