Capitalizing on the resurgence of the folk hero Wong Fei-Hung in Once Upon a Time in China, veteran kung fu stuntman Lee Chiu directs this knockoff of said film, and features some exciting action, but there’s something just missing.
Wong Fei-Hung is a young man who is constantly finding himself into trouble. When his father finds him taking on The Mayor’s rotten nephew, Ha Tien, Wong Chi-Ying is at his wit’s end. After a chat with his son, he tells him that he is dying and that he must be careful of an old student of his named Jiubinku, a Japanese swordsman out for revenge. As he dies, Fei-Hung, being the son of Wong Chi-Ying, is chosen to take over Po Chi Lam, much to the chagrin of senior instructor Lu Wai. When in a desperate attempt to test Fei-Hung learns that Fei-Hung actually has what it takes, Lu Wai leaves the school. As Fei-Hung changes his ways and out about town, Jiubinku has arrived and learning that Chi-Ying has died, the Japanese swordsman goes on a rampage and in the process, murders Lu Wai.
Meanwhile, Ha Tien has conspired with British consulate Smith to open an opium den in town. At first, the Mayor is reluctant to accept this alliance, but later does exactly that. When Ha-Tien finds a young Japanese woman, he attempts to woo her forcefully until Fei-Hung is about to stop him. The Japanese girl, Sakura, is actually the sister of Jiubinku. As Fei-Hung befriends Sakura, he asks that she find Jiubinku so he can challenge him for both his father and the late Lu Wai. When Fei-Hung learns that his uncles Su and Fishmonger have been smoking opium, Fei-Hung goes into a rage and destroys the opium den. Now, Fei-Hung has both the proprietors of the opium den as well as Jiubinku to deal with. How will he get out of this predicament?
The legend of martial arts master Wong Fei-Hung is a legend that has been around for many decades. After the 1949 to 1970 series starring Kwan Tak-Hing, Kwan and actors such as Jackie Chan and Gordon Liu would play the role during the classic kung fu film era. In 1991, Tsui Hark unleashed Once Upon a Time in China, which brought the legend back in the form of Jet Li and began a resurgence in the period kung fu film. Lee Chiu, a veteran actor in old classic kung fu films, co-wrote and directed this film to capitalize on both Wong and the new period kung fu films of the 1990’s.
Taking on the role of Wong Fei-Hung in this film is Chin Kar-Lok, a veteran stuntman who got his start with Sammo Hung’s stunt team at the age of 19. For some reason, many feel that while he has the skills, he lacks charisma that would make him a bankable lead role in films. What some many not realize is that Chin had been given roles that made him play a somewhat coyish and not exactly a mature hero type. It happened with Operation Scorpio and the opening of this film. However, he seems to give it his all in the film here, showing Wong as both an immature whelp and as a mature martial arts master who believes in his views.
The late great Lam Ching-Ying plays one of two major rivals for Wong Fei-Hung. Here, Lam plays a Japanese swordsman who is hellbent on showing his superiority of martial arts by challenging Wong Chi-Ying first only to learn he had died. This would give him no other option but to challenge Wong Fei-Hung. Interestingly enough, despite the noted rivalry, there is a sense of respect between Jiubinku and Wong as seen in a pivotal scene. The other major rival is Ha Tien, played by Suen Kwok-Ming. Ha is seen as the arrogant pompous nephew of the Mayor who is that way because of that connection. As a result, he lets his ego run his mouth quite often. Granted, he is good at martial arts too, but this is the type of character you just can’t wait to get his. Meanwhile, Jacqueline Ng seems a good fit as Sakura, who is somewhat of a love interest and brings more of that immature quality to Fei-Hung.
The action scenes, choreographed by former Shaw Brothers veteran Hsiao Ho and Ng Min-Kan, are pretty fun and are the highlight of the film. Despite some obvious wire enhancements, Chin looks quite graceful at times with his acrobatic style and kicking skills. With the exception of the finale, most of the wire enhanced stuff is used for impact shots with very little use for the actual technique being used. The finale could have been more exciting. However, this is the major flaw of the film. The filmmakers, for one reason or another, decide to wrap up one of the major subplots incomplete and focus on the other one. By the time the credits roll, you will definitely ask yourself, “Did I miss something?” and reply with an astounding “Yes”.
Martial Arts Master Wong Fei-Hung is not a total dud of a period kung fu film. This is perhaps the closest we will ever see Chin Kar-Lok in a decent lead role (as he is now the President of the Hong Kong Stuntman Association and one of Hong Kong’s top action directors today) and the action is fun to watch. But that missing finale to one of the subplots pretty much ruined the chance for this film to be an excellent film.
WFG RATING: C
A Great Audience Film & Television Production Ltd. production. Director: Lee Chiu. Producer: Cheung Sin-Gung. Writers: Wong Shiu-Gei, Sze-To On, and Lee Chiu. Cinematography: Gordon Yeung. Editing: Kwok Ting-Hung.
Cast: Chin Kar-Lok, Lam Ching-Ying, Jacqueline Ng, Suen Kwok-Ming, Kwan Hoi-San, Chan Siu-Pang, Kong Miu-Deng .