Hailed as one of the greatest heroes in Chinese history, Wong Fei-Hung returns to the screens in a brean new take on the legend driven by a performance from Eddie Peng as the young version of the martial arts legend.
As a young boy, Wong Fei-Hung would assist his father, martial artist and doctor Wong Kei-Ying on helping the sick. However, as years pass, Wong has become a junior apprentice of the Black Tiger gang, led by Lei Kung. Due to the trade ban and the Opium Wars, the once prolific Silk Road has now become a war zone in which local dock workers disappear and are later found in the sea. Lei Kung’s three major subordinates are warehouse leader North Evil, casino boss Black Crow, and slave trader Old Snake.
When Lei Kung invites a junior apprentice to become his fourth subordinate, Fei-Hung does what is asked and that is to kill and take the head of the rival leader Wu of the North Sea Gang. Wong literally risks his life, nearly getting killed for his actions. Nevertheless, impressed with his fighting skills, Lei Kung makes Fei-Hung his fourth subordinate. Soon, the Black Tiger Gang find trouble in the form of Wu Long, the son of the North Sea Gang leader who years for revenge and a band of rebels only known as the Orphan Gang. However, a dark secret and revelation tends to break apart the most revered gang in the Silk Road for good.
The character of Wong Fei-Hung has been a legendary figure in martial arts cinema who was actually a real person who lived from 1847-1924. Yes, he was both a martial arts expert who believed in the unity of China and a doctor. The character had appeared in many films since 1949 and has been played by the likes of Kwan Tak-Hing, Jackie Chan, Gordon Liu, Angie Tsang, Jet Li, and Vincent Zhao. After 2004’s Around the World in 80 Days, in which Sammo Hung played a memorable cameo as the legendary warrior, we never really saw the character again until now.
Christine To’s script juxtaposes present day, or in this case late 19th century China with the past events. The idea is to present a puzzle in which one cannot exactly miss anything because the juxtapositioning if missed, can cause the viewer to be confused. In this case, it is necessary to understand why what is happening is happening. Roy Chow’s first foray in the martial arts genre is quite a delight and the reason is the driving force of the film, Taiwanese-born actor Eddie Peng, who plays the 21-year old Wong Fei-Hung. Having learned martial arts for nine months to prove his dedication to bringing back the legend of Wong to life, Eddie not only proves himself in the action department, but does very well in the acting department as he seems to be more than what we all think.
Sammo Hung, who also served as one of the film’s producers, returns to villain territory as Black Tiger Gang leader Lei Kung. Lei is seen as notorious yet one can feel that he sympathizes with certain people, especially Wong Fei-Hung. Yet, the evil side does take over and is hidden behind quite a facade in his so-called sincerity. AngelaBaby makes the most of her screen time as Orchid, a concubine who is in love with Fei-Hung while Boran Jing and Wang Luodan perform well as members of the Orchid Gang. Tony Leung Ka-Fai also makes the most of his screen time in a cameo appearance as Wong Kei-Ying. Feng Jia-Yi and Byron Mann are vicious in their roles of two of the three Tigers under Lei Kung as they have the most to gain under their boss.
Many have felt Corey Yuen up to this point may not be the right action director for such a film. However, Yuen has come back to pretty good form with this film’s fight scenes and just to show how dedicated Eddie Peng is, the film’s opening is just a taste of Peng fighting his way through the North Sea Gang in one of the film’s pivotal fight scenes. There are some nice stop-motion shots that enhance the action and while Max Zhang has done much better in films such as Ip Man 3, here, he shows how good he is with a sword as a weapon. The finale is quite interesting but one question has to be asked, why do a fight scene over a pretty meh CGI fire? Not that it’s completely bad, but it’s the effects in this scene that is not too thrilling and actually can take away the action itself.
Rise of the Legend may not be an epic film but it is quite a valiant effort that meshes the past and present with driven performances by Eddie Peng as Wong Fei-Hung and Sammo Hung as the Black Tiger Gang leader. Corey Yuen’s action earns some redemption points for him. It’s an effort worth checking out.
WFG RATING: B
An Edko Films Limited production. Director: Roy Chow. Producers: Bill Kong, Sammo Hung, Ivy Ho, and Lau Yee-Tung. Writer: Christine To. Cinematography: Ng Man-Ching, Chou Man-Keung, and Yang Yong. Editing: Cheung Ka-Fai and Tang Man-To.
Cast: Sammo Hung, Eddie Peng, AngelaBaby, Tony Leung Ka-Fai, Boran Jing, Wang Luodan, Wong Cho-Lam, Max Zhang, Feng Jia-Yi, Byron Mann, Julius Brian Siswojo, Lo Pei-An, Chen Zhi-Hui.