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“Gallants,” a geriatric kung fu comedy.

“Gallants,” a geriatric kung fu comedy. (photo)

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Reviewed at the 2010 New York Asian Film Festival.

If Betty White can host “Saturday Night Live” at age 88, why can’t a bunch of former martial arts heavyweights headline their own kung fu movie at 60? They can, as evidenced by surprisingly athletic and impressively self-deprecating performances from Bruce Leung and Chen Kuan-tai in NYAFF selection “Gallants.”

Unlike their aging American counterparts, who stretch their faces tighter across their skulls with each new role, Leung and Chen look every bit of their 62 and 64 years, respectively, which is exactly what this film, a very funny comedy about the cruelty of old age, demands.

Leung and Chen are Tiger and Dragon — don’t expect much crouching or hiding, they’re too arthritic for that stuff — the last remaining students of the once great Master Law (Teddy Robin), who has been lost to an endless coma for 30 years. Eternally loyal, they’ve stayed at his bedside and turned his martial arts club into a teahouse that’s now part of a land dispute that dweeby young real estate agent Cheung (Wong Yue-nam) has been sent to resolve.

Lucky for Tiger and Dragon, he’d much rather learn kung fu than snatch the deed to the property, which was given to the Law club decades earlier by the father of the local bully (and object of Cheung’s childhood aggressions) Mang (MC Jin).

07052010_Gallants2.jpgReally, though, the film is less concerned with narrative than showcasing the still-feisty fighting skills of Leung and Chen, and the spot-on comedic timing of Robin, who awakens from his coma as a crazy old coot with no conception of how long he’s been asleep. He promptly mistakes Cheung for Tiger and Tiger for a new student, and then lays out his hilariously Draconian club rules: 1. No guys with long hair. 2. No one who wants to learn kung fu for the health or fitness benefits. 3. No ugly people. His whole schtick is one extended riff on the cliché of the wise old kung fu master, but if it’s a one-joke character, it’s a damn good joke. In his one fight scene, Robin’s Master Law is quickly felled by an errant fanny pack.

The Law clan’s battle with a flashier, slicker school of kung fu mirrors these aging masters’ struggle for relevance in the world of contemporary Asian cinema. Directors Derek Kwok and Clement Cheng have an obvious affection for their stars and the movies of their heyday, but they’re not so blinded by admiration that they can’t poke fun at them as well. Awesome as they are, those old kung fu flicks were a bit silly too, with their deadly venoms and excessively preening fighters, and “Gallants” does a nice job of memorializing all the stuff that made those films so simultaneously cool and goofy.

The film chugs along with a manic energy that belies the actors’ age and it captures the spirit of the old Shaw Brothers style with an evocatively retro score and opening credits sequence. But even if you’ve never seen one of those movies before, there’s a lot to enjoy about “Gallants.”

This could have been an exercise in cheap nostalgia, and it’s not. Taken entirely on its own, it’s a wholly entertaining and touching movie about friendship and growing old. So why stop the old school revival at one movie? ’70s-style kung fu by guys in their 70s would be awesome. Maybe they can get Betty White to play Master Law’s long-lost wife in the sequel.

“Gallants” does not yet have U.S. distribution. It plays Tuesday, July 6 and 8 at 6 PM at the Walter Reade Theater in New York City.

[Photos: “Gallants,” Focus Films/Newport Entertainment, 2010]

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

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Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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