Today I watched Lau Kar-leung’s Dirty Ho (1976)
Once again Gordon Liu stars, this time playing a Manchurian prince named Wang who is undercover trying to uncover an assassination plot on his life. In the opening scene he gets into a disagreement with a jewel thief, the titular Dirty Ho, over the affections of a troupe of courtesans, each trying to outdo the other with ostentatious displays of wealth. This breaks down into violence which attracts the guards who are on the lookout for the jewel thief, despite Ho attacking him, Wang still covers for Ho, though he does take his ill gotten goods. At first it seems as though Wang is really just a jeweler bumbling through the fight scenes as though he was unskilled, secretly hiding his exceptional abilities. Wang is also a shrewd manipulator though and sees an opportunity in his adversarial relationship with Ho and he continues to use him to help flush out his would be assassins while also trying to reform his immoral ways of thievery.
At first this film did not work for me, I just wasn’t getting the joke. But then there is a scene in which Wang is at a wine tasting with one of his enemy conspirators in which they have a fight scene while hiding said fight scene from observers and then the film really clicked for me and in retrospect all of Wang’s previous bumbling becomes covert Kung Fu. It is marvelously creative with this idea and it makes the fight scenes that use it really quite unique. It has a whole different psychology from regular fight scenes as instead of the fighters aiming for big, hard hitting offense, they focus on subtlety and deadliness. It also makes the film really quite funny, with plenty of subtle antics and skilled slapstick, though if you don’t catch on to Wang’s secret skills, the earlier slapstick feels rather plain. It’s one of those times when a little spoiler will really improve one’s experience with the beginning of the film because of the dramatic irony one can appreciate if they know it’s there.
The film is also notable as being one of the only classic Kung Fu films that actually presents a Manchurian as something other than a morally corrupt and tyrannical monster. Gordon Liu seems to be having tonnes of fun with the comedic elements of his character and pretending to be a foppish merchant whilst also having the credibility to back up the martial skill needed later in the film. Dirty Ho is not just a hilarious movie with unique and creative fight choreography, but you can also get a laugh asking friends if they want to watch a movie called Dirty Ho, gets me every time. 5/5