Director: Roy Chow
Writer: Christine To
Producer: Ivy Ho, Bill Kong
Cast: Eddie Peng, May Wang, Tony Leung Ka Fai, Sammo Hung, Jing Boran, Wong Cho Lam, Simon Yam, Max Zhang Jin, AngelaBaby, Feng Jia Yi, Byron Mann
Running Time: 131 min.
19th Century China was a time of turmoil. The majority of the populace suffered from extreme poverty and Western imperialist pressure was slowly rearing its ugly head in major cities all over the country. Local feudal-like gangs engaging in turf wars have become a commonplace along with the proliferation of opium dens. An undercurrent of discontent from the masses was about to boil over…
This is the backdrop of Rise of the Legend in the port city of Guangzhou, China revolving around its main wharf controlled by two factions, the Black Tiger Clan and the Northern Sea Clan.
Rise of the Legend stars Eddie Peng (Unbeatable) as Wong Fei Hung and Sammo Hung (Once Upon a Time in Shanghai) as Lei Gong of the Black Tiger Clan. The film is a re-imagining of the life and times of Chinese folk hero Wong Fei Hung. Martial arts movie fans will no doubt remember the character made famous by Jet Li (Flying Swords of Dragon Gate) and Tsui Hark in the Once upon a Time in China film series. This new glossy interpretation chronicles Wong’s meteoric rise from street urchin to folk hero.
Rise of the Legend opens with a drenched Wong – obviously in distress – running amidst a heavy downpour, fighting for his life as axe and sword wielding goons rush at him from every direction. The Corey Yuen-choreographed clash is beautiful to look at. The slow motion pan and scan, the CGI and even some ‘wire-fu’ makes Peng (a non-martial artist in real life) look believable with his “shadowless kick” Wong is famous for. The almost-endless rhythmic ballet of punches and kicks – packed with a cacophony of sound – left me affixed to the screen. Heightening the life-and-death action in progress is the outstanding score by Shigeru Umebayashi (The Grandmaster).
Yuen finally redeems himself from the debacle that was Badges of Fury. Rise of the Legend is vintage Yuen. He’s truly in fine form here with his visual flair for summersaults, aerial wireworks and a variety of connecting kicks and punches. One particular inventive sequence made me want more: During a sword battle between Wong and his opponent, Wong’s sword flies out of his hand and impales onto a pillar on the opposite side of the room. After leaping atop his enemy – landing a near-fatal, closed fist knuckle blow to the head – Wong continues to strike him repeatedly. Stumbling backwards from the attack, his opponent basically decapitates himself, falling back onto the aforementioned sword. This clever scene has to be seen to be believed.
Peng’s casting as Wong was a good choice. His charismatic presence is well-balanced by his nonchalant, under-the-surface seething. Hung is excellent as s Boss Lei Gong, the cruel, tyrannical leader of the Black Tiger Clan. He’s ruthless, yet in his own way, benevolent to those he deemed loyal and worthy.
Peng reportedly buffed up and trained for almost an entire year in Nanquan (Southern fist) to prepare for the role. His dedication paid off: His moves are no mere mimicry; they appear powerful, effective and real (take this from someone who actually practices martial arts). He’s also quite adept at using the broadsword, which is no small feat for someone with a year’s training.
Rebooting the much beloved folk tale of Wong into Rise of the Legend was a gamble. Some detractors would label the film sacrilegious, compared to the Once Upon a Time in China series. However, even the Once Upon a Time in China series is a fictionalized rendition; not a biopic. The gamble, in my opinion, did pay off and this new tale of Wong stands on its own.
Rise of the Legend is not without drawbacks. Clocking in at over 2 hours long, the script borders on information overload: too many thematic elements are explored, but none are fully developed. As a result, Roy Chow’s (Nightfall) directing and pacing isn’t as smooth as it should be. It constantly transitions from one theme to the next with flashbacks. These transitions left very little room for character development for two main characters in the film.
Nevertheless, the film’s excellent choreography, overall storytelling and inevitable duel between Wong and Lei Gong make up for its shortcomings. What a finale.
Rise of the Legend is definitely recommended.
oneleaf’s rating: 7/10