it does claim the single greatest title in cinema
history, Dirty Ho has a lot more going for
it than just an unintentionally hilarious moniker.
Directed by legendary filmmaker Lau Kar-Leung, the
film features Wong Yue as Ho Chih, an impetuous young
jewel thief who considers himself quite the big shot
- that is, until he meets Wang Qinqin (the great Gordon
Liu Chia-Hui), a wealthy wine connoisseur who is far
more than what he seems. Little does anyone know that
Wang is actually a prince in disguise who has absolutely
no interest in ascending to the throne. In truth,
the 13th prince would rather spend his days admiring
art, checking out antiques, and drinking fine wine.
The film begins with
both of these men battling for the attentions of the
beautiful women populating a local brothel. Their
comic game of one-upmanship is soon interrupted, however,
when the cops show up, looking for some stolen jewels.
Guilty as charged, Ho is taken away as the culprit,
but Wang is able to keep the young punk out of serious
trouble by subtly flashing his royal ID. Of course,
Ho doesn't realize that Wang has done him a great
favor and later returns to the brothel to seek some
measure of revenge.
Although a master of
the martial arts, Wang chooses to stay in character
and pretend that he doesn't know any kung fu. When
Ho attacks, Wang claims that the courtesan Tsui Hong
(Kara Hui Ying-Hung) is his bodyguard, much to the
girl's surprise. Thanks to Wang's subtle assistance,
Tsui Hong suddenly appears to be a formidable opponent
for Ho, beating him senseless and even leaving Ho
with a nasty cut on his head via a poisoned-tipped
sword. Ho retreats into the night, but later finds
that the cut simply refuses to heal.
Worried that he might
die, Ho returns looking for Tsui Hong, but she is
nowhere to be found. Apparently, the benevolent Wang
used his immense wealth to buy her freedom. To Ho's
relief, Wang claims to know how to cure the wound,
but his terms prove to be awfully steep for the extremely
proud Ho Chih. In order for him to receive the antidote,
Ho must kowtow to Wang and call him master, a price
Ho grudgingly agrees to pay. The reason for this set-up
is simple: Wang sees great promise in Ho's martial
arts ability, but is disappointed in the way he chooses
to wield it. Believing that he can reform the young
man through training, Wang creates a situation in
which Ho becomes his disciple. And by choosing to
only administer the antidote in small doses every
few days, Wang is able to keep Ho around long enough
to impart some sage-like knowledge into the young
But while these two
are getting to know each other, it seems that Wang's
elder brother, the evil fourth prince is seeking to
wipe out all other potential heirs to the crown before
the Emperor announces his successor. Wang's interest
in wine, women, and song means nothing to the fourth
prince, who orders the powerful General Liang (Lo
Lieh) to assassinate him. Liang sends several different
hired killers (including two played by Johnny Wang
Lung-Wei and Hsiao Ho), each trying and ultimately
failing to defeat the formidable Wang Qinqin.
But during one fateful
melee, Wang ends up getting stabbed in the leg, and
it's up to Ho to help his master get to safety. With
Wang's true identity revealed, Ho dedicates himself
to a series of grueling training exercises in order
to help his master overcome the deadly assassination
plot. With Wang now wheelchair-bound and a pack of
skilled archers hot on their tail, Ho and his master
have a lot to deal with on their journey to the Emperor's
palace. Soon, they realize it's only through their
combined strength that they can overcome General Liang
and his forces.
From its wonderfully
stylized, backstory-filled opening credit sequence
to its thrilling, amazingly choreographed finale,
Dirty Ho amounts to one of the best martial
arts films ever to come out of the Shaw Brothers studio.
Although more famous for 36th Chamber of Shaolin,
Gordon Liu Chia-Hui is really given a chance to shine
in the role of the 13th prince. Liu has played the
traditional stoic sifu role many times before, but
with Wang Qinqin, Liu is more playful and sly, making
his character all the more well-rounded and charming.
While Wong Yue cannot hope to match the charisma of
his talented co-star, he handles himself well in the
title role, creating an immensely likeable protagonist.
Simply put, Dirty
Ho is probably one of the best kung fu comedies
ever made. While it succeeds as a straightforward
martial arts film, Dirty Ho possesses a delightful
sense of humor, often taking the time to send up various
clichés prevalent in the martial arts genre.
The hilarious, blood-gushing Crippled Avengers
parody featuring "The Four Handicapped Devils"
is a real treat, as is the confrontation between the
heroes and the strangely fey "Seven Bitters of
the East River."
Of course, a kung fu
film is nothing without action. And although the fighting
is perhaps not as speedy as most post-Police Story
era martial arts flicks, the action set pieces in
Dirty Ho are so elaborate and intricately choreographed
(and oftentimes shot in a single take) that you can't
help but be impressed by the work that went into each
scene. In martial arts films, there's always the chance
that the audience will suffer "fight fatigue"
thanks to an overabundance of action sequences, but
here, Lau Kar-Leung makes sure that every battle is
unique, often including a clever or comic twist to
keep audiences interested. For instance, before Wang
stands revealed as the 13th Prince, he has to fight
with his enemies in such a way that no one will notice.
It's a charming, if unbelievable conceit, as Wang
and the assassins seem to be engaged in normal conversations
and actions. However, under the surface, they're actually
battling it out using whatever props they have at
hand, all in the hopes that the clueless Ho won't
notice a thing.
Certainly, old school
kung fu films won't be to everyone's taste, especially
for generations weaned on Fong Sai Yuk, Iron
Monkey, and Drunken Master II. But even
so, Dirty Ho is the kind of film that - despite
the innovations made in the genre - still retains
a timeless charm few martial arts fans could ignore.
And hey, if the title alone isn't enough to convince
you of the film's classic status, Dirty Ho
even boasts one of the funniest taglines in recent
memory: "You haven't lived until you've fought
Dirty Ho…and then you're dead!" (Calvin McMillin