Rise of the Legend

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rise-of-the-legend

Director: Roy Chow

Cast: Eddie Peng, Sammo Hung, Wong Cho-Lam, Angelababy, Wang Loudan, Jing Boran, Tony Leung Ka Fai

Rating: ***1/2

Length: 131 mins

Opening: Now showing

Plot: A war between two rival gangs over the ultimate control of the Guangzhou Pearl River harbour unravels a heinous human trafficking crime committed by the Black Tiger gang, which is led by Thunder (Sammo Hung). A young Wong Fei-Hung (Eddie Peng) proves himself a fearless and cold-blooded fighter determined to join the gang and rise through the ranks. There is more to it than meets the eye, however, as signs of an uprising by a group of vagabonds start to play out.

RISE of the Legend sees the kung-fu film heavyweights behind it take on a visual driven, modern and highly stylised take on a classic formula. Produced by William Kong, who has a track record of award-winning blockbusters starting from The Blue Kite and followed by epic historical favourites Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Hero, House of Flying Daggers, Curse of the Golden Flower, Fearless and then Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution among others.

Throwing his weight and money behind new Chinese directors in recent years, Kong rejoins director Roy Chow (Crime & Punishment, Nightfall) in a prequel story of Kung Fu films’ most legendary character — Wong Fei-Hung. The plot is intriguing enough to sustain interest — a young and maybe a little too good-looking Wong comes across as hotheaded and cocky, who mysteriously chooses to join the notorious Black Tiger gang.

Clearly ambitious and calculative, Wong seems to be driven by a thirst for revenge and vengeance, a far cry from the unperturbed and gentlemanly Wong Fei-Hung that we grew up watching. Played by Taiwanese heart-throb Eddie Peng who, with this film, reinvents himself one leap further as a chiselled action star, Rise of the Legend succeeds in stirring the imagination with a new side to a well-worn character.

That being said, however, it’s a good thing Peng has a natural tortured soul,  vulnerable charm that suits the storyline here, because his acting leaves quite a lot to be desired. A crucial scene of loss betrays his limits rather painfully.

The film also takes the brotherhood allegiance to a bromance level at the film’s peak, ruining what could have been a genuinely heartfelt moment by tipping it over the edge.

As for proving his chops as a martial arts actor, the verdict remains open what with the heavy use of stylised effects and wire action.

Choreographed by veteran Corey Yuan with Sammo Hung in support as well as in action, Rise of the Legend brings a hyper-realistic visual impact (with a generous amount of blood) for the action, clearly designed to impress. It worked from the beginning, with enough slow-motion dramatic pauses to emphasise.

Fans of some old-school Wong Fei-Hung action may be divided over whether the modern style detracts from or enhances. What is definite is that the action sequences could have been longer, with more focus on actual martial arts movement, perhaps with more one-on-one actual fighting than the multiple one-versus-many scenes we were subjected to.

At the end, when the anticipated one-on-one fight does take place amidst a contrived fire and fury climax, the over-indulgent use of style makes for a draggy, uninspiring and unsatisfying end. Nevertheless, Rise of the Legend is a timely revisit with a refreshing new story that expands on the legend that is Wong Fei-Hung.

 

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on December 4, 2014.