‘The Valiant Ones’ or — Wonderful Wuxia?

Colin Edwards
3 min readJun 6, 2024


To call ‘The Valiant Ones’ (1975) one of King Hu’s lesser Wuxia works is only a criticism if you forget the fact that most of his other movies — ‘Come Drink With Me’ (1966), ‘Dragon Inn’ (1967), ‘A Touch of Zen’ (1971), ‘Raining in the Mountain’ (1979) — are not only stunning masterpieces but also some of the most astonishingly beautiful films ever made. So even if this outing isn’t quite at that god tier level it’s still functioning at a bloody high one. In fact, its more grounded tale, limited budget and restriction of resources gives it a unique little edge along with the nimble energy of a filmmaker having to think on their feet.

Much like Jimmy Wang Yu’s ‘Beach of the War Gods’ (1973) Hu’s film concerns the attacks by Japanese pirates on the villages located along the Chinese coastline in olden times. This relatively straight forward problem is complicated by the fact the pirates have spies and sympathisers among the local merchants, officials and townsfolk so when Yu Da-You (Roy Chiao) leads a group of skilled fighters to defeat the pirates he has to keep certain aspects of his strategy secret in case his plans leak back to the marauding buccaneers.

What follows is a series of tricks, schemes and deceptions on both sides as Yu and his team attempt to locate the pirates’ lair and the pirates attempt to stop them from doing so.

And it’s a load of fun with King Hu seizing every opportunity to infuse this fairly straight forward tale with a bundle of dynamic action (the fight scenes were choreographed by Sammo Hung, who also plays the pirate chief) and stunning scenery, something that won’t be a surprise to any fans of Hu’s work.

Incidentally, if you’re not familiar with Hu’s Wuxia work then imagine the balletic beauty of ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’ (2000) combined with Sergio Leone’s feel for action and the rapid fire editing of early James Bond Peter Hunt. And it’s as cool as all that sounds although considering this film was made after the financial disappointment of Hu’s epic ‘A Touch of Zen’ it means Hu doesn’t have quite the same budget or large canvas on which to play as usual, something evident in the repeated use of some footage and the smaller scale of the fights (although Hu does a great job of making three pirates feel like thirty). This means he has to get inventive.

This invention is perfectly demonstrated during a pirate attack on Yu’s encampment where Yu’s outfit wordlessly communicate to each other the placement of the approaching forces by use of musical signals which are then silently mapped out to the others by the placement of pieces on a weiqi board (essentially, China’s version of Go). It’s an extremely nifty way of visually representing to the viewer the ever evolving strategy of both sides without saying a single word, as well as creating the impression there’s more enemies out there than Hu obviously had at hand. But Hu’s always had this incredible knack for presenting and executing action in unique and interesting non-physical ways, another great example being the wonderful battle between drums and coloured smoke in ‘Raining in the Mountain’.

Hu also compensates for any lack of large-scale mayhem by keeping the action smaller but constantly moving, so there’s hardly a moment of down time with the film always keeping everything in motion. Hu also eschews the more transcendental nature of his other films (there aren’t any floating monks bleeding gold here) and sticks to a more “realistic” and historical approach, for the most part.

However, there’s still plenty of time for Hu’s lovingly shot moments of clouds, trees, water and rocks even if we feel he doesn’t quite have the time available to linger on them as adoringly as usual. But it doesn’t matter as Hu’s style, look and feel is so alluring I could gaze at his footage for days.

So yeah, ‘The Valiant Ones’ isn’t quite one of Hu’s mystical masterpieces but it doesn’t matter anyway because the guy was simply that bloody good.



Colin Edwards

Comedy writer, radio producer and director of large scale audio features.