Above: The Valiant Ones movie poster.
Like The Fate of Lee Khan before it, The Valiant Ones was made by King Hu’s own production company. Unlike the Fate of Lee Khan, this film was not confined to a few small locales. Featuring a wide variety of settings, excellent fight choreography, great sound design and even a good story, The Valiant Ones is my favorite King Hu film to date.
Above (left to right): General Yu-DaYou and his two wuxia masters, Wu Re-Shi and Wu Jiyuan
I think it is that final component of a good and well told story is what really brings this film together. In my humble opinion, story is one of King Hu’s weaker points. While several films have a good and engaging story I feel that King Hu’s strength has generally laid more with the cinematography, sound design and fight choreography. The stories, while often engaging, are generally relatively simple.
Above: Wu-Jiyuan Subduing a Japanese Pirate
However, The Valiant Ones stands apart for me. There are several aspects to it that make the story great, beginning with the fact that it draws from history for inspiration. The Valiant Ones deals with a historical issue and characters that actually existed. Yu-DaYou was a Chinese general who was tasked with eradicating Japanese pirates and Ronin in the 1500s. King Hu adds to this mix political intrigue, with prominent Chinese officials actually aiding the pirates. Watching the game of cat and mouse unfold as the cunning general deploys his small force against overwhelming and deadly Japanese invaders creates a wonderful sense of tension and engagement. It is easy to root for Yu-DaYou and to be impressed by both the combat skill and intelligence of him and his subordinates. These elements, coupled with King Hu’s excellent sound design and pacing, it makes for an amazing film and for me sets a new high mark in his filmography.