Action / Adventure, Comedy, Films, Hong Kong, Martial arts, Recommended posts, Reviews, Shaw Brothers

Dirty Ho

Another Shaw Brothers martial arts classic from Lau Kar-leung and Gordon Liu, this time on the comedic side…

Lau Kar-leung, who passed away 2013, was unquestionably one of the most important and influential directors and action choreographers to have worked in Hong Kong, with a career that began in the 1950s and spanned over 60 years. Lau was best known for his work with the Shaw Brothers, serving as a choreographer for the legendary Chang Cheh on the likes of The One-Armed Swordsman and The Boxer from Shantung before taking up the mantle of director himself and helming a long list of genre hits. Of particular note were his many collaborations with star Gordon Liu, which included beloved classics such as The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, Eight-Diagram Pole Fighter, Heroes of the East and Legendary Weapons of China to name but a few. Released in 1979, the same year Lau also directed the amazing Mad Monkey Kung Fu, Dirty Ho was another of his works with Liu, a more comedic take on the usual martial arts themes that’s now available in a new 2K restoration as part of Arrow Films’ Shawscope Volume One Blu-ray set.

Gordon Liu plays Master Wang, a wealthy travelling merchant who happens to be a Manchurian prince in disguise, on a mission to try and uncover a plot to assassinate him. In a brothel in Guangzhou he comes across the lowly thief Dirty Ho (Wong Yue, who also worked with Liu and Lau on The 36th Chamber of Shaolin, Eight-Diagram Pole Fighter and other films), and decides to use him as part of his schemes to flush out his enemies, manipulating him during fights to hide his own martial arts prowess. Eventually Wang’s identity is revealed to Ho, who agrees to become his disciple, and the two work together to take on the assassins.

Although perhaps not as well-known as some of Lau Kar-leung and Gordon Liu’s other collaborations, Dirty Ho is arguably one of their best, and stands out from most Shaw Brothers films of the time thanks to its focus on wacky physical comedy instead of the usual revenge themes and stoic duelling. This gives Lau and Liu the chance to try a different, more creative choreography style, skilfully blending martial arts with slapstick and over the top bumbling in a way which is both thrilling and frequently very funny – the film has a number of impressive and inventive set pieces, the most memorable of which sees a young Kara Hui being used as a puppet by Liu to battle with a confused Wong Yue. Although things do get hard-edged and violent during the later stages, moving into more traditional Shaw territory, the film is at its best during the scenes of Liu sneaking around Wong, the two actors having great chemistry that’s really fun to watch. Lau, Wong and Liu all seem to have been having a good time with the production, and this really comes across onscreen, helping to make Dirty Ho a very welcome change from the usual martial arts formula.

Dirty Ho is presented here on Blu-ray in a new 2K restoration from the original negative, and it certainly looks great, even if the production values are a little lower than those of some other Shaw Brothers films of the time. In terms of extras, the release comes with the usual trailers and image galleries and an alternate English credits, as well as a specially-filmed chat with film critic and historian Tony Rayns – there’s also the inclusion of music from the film in the set, which is a nice addition for fans.

Dirty Ho is one of the most entertaining Shaw Brothers productions of the late 1970s, and sees Lau Kar-leung and Gordon Liu at their very best. Creatively choreographed and frequently very funny, hopefully, its inclusion in the Shawscope Volume One set will see it becoming as well-known as their other more famous collaborations.

Dirty Ho is released as part of Shawscope Volume One Limited Edition Blu-ray Boxset from 20th December 2021 from Arrow Video. This 10-disc box set includes 12 Shaw Brothers films, and two discs of soundtrack selections from the De Wolf Music Library.

About the author

James MudgeJames Mudge James Mudge
From Glasgow but based in London, James has been writing for a variety of websites over the last decade, including BeyondHollywood in the US and YesAsia in Hong Kong. As well as running film consultancy The Next Day Agency, James is also the Festival Director of the Chinese Visual Festival in London, an annual event which showcases Chinese language cinema... More »
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