There’s a long and glorious tradition in Asian cinema of historically significant martial artists being the subjects of fictionalized apocrypha and none can stake a greater claim in this arena than Wong Fei-hung! He’s the Chinese answer to everyone from Robin Hood to Billy the Kid and the subject of over one hundred films. For his 21st century reboot. “Rise of the Legend” makes him the subject of a kind of superhero origin story. One that could easily have been titled “Fei-Hung Begins” and carried just a strong a connotation.
The blending of vast sets and digital effects is not quite seamless in Chow Hin Yeung’s kung fu period extravaganza Rise of the Legend (Thanh Trung Hac Ho Bang) but it’s close. Revisiting the story of Wong Fei Hung, a martial arts master whose life has passed into Chinese folklore. “Legend” takes place in 19th-century Guangzhou, where two crime factions vie for control of the docks. This movie’s Guangzhou is a marvel: sprawling, detailed, abounding in narrow alleys and vivid street scenes.
Alas, the plot and subplots are variations on time-honored Hong Kong cinema devices: The young Fei (played as an adult by Eddie Peng) grows up training alongside a buddy, Fiery (Jing Boran); both pine for the same woman, Chun (Wang Luodan), a minder of street waifs. Fei, a formidable warrior. He is adopted by the kingpin Lei Gong (the kung fu movie veteran Sammo Hung), only to subvert his empire. When Chun and Fiery lead an insurrection and torch Lei Gong’s opium dens, furious but graceful brawls (orchestrated by the renowned fight choreographer Corey Yuen) erupt.
The movie have so much beautiful martial arts scene
Mr. Peng has charisma, though his moves are less convincing than those of an earlier Fei: Jet Li, in Tsui Hark’s 1991 classic “Once Upon a Time in China” (and less humorous than those of Jackie Chan, who played Fei in “The Legend of Drunken Master,” a.k.a. “Drunken Master 2,” from 1994). But “Legend” does offer the hefty authority of Mr. Hung, who at 64 can still — almost — hit, kick and do wire work with the best of them.
Rise of the Legend (phim hanh dong vo thuat 2020) is enjoyable but also uneven. Taking Wong Fei-hung into this kind of darker, more hardcore territory was a wise decision in rebooting him for audiences in the “Ip Man” era, but it doesn’t adhere closely enough to what that kind of approach entails for the film to fully gel. Of course, no Wong Fei-hung movie would be complete without his theme song, “A Man Should Better Himself”, and boy did this one hold off on it until just the right moment!
Director: Roy Hin Yeung Chow
Writer: Chi-long To
Stars: Sammo Kam-Bo Hung, Eddie Peng, Luodan Wang, Boran Jing, Cho-Lam Wong
Duration: 2h 11m
Genres: Action, Biography, Drama