Rise of the Legend (2014)

Posted in Reviews by - September 26, 2020
Rise of the Legend (2014)

Stylish if slightly bloated reimagining of Wong Fei-hung’s beginnings which recasts the virtuous folk hero as a violent fighter in a Guangzhou (Canton) docklands gang in the 1860s, running errands for his crime boss, Lui (Sammo Hung). He decapitates a rival kingpin and thrashes the whole gang single-handedly, earning his boss’ trust and respect. Max Zhang, playing the boss’ son, drops in to take his revenge, and Wong thrashes him too. Its a daring, contrary approach to Wong’s filmic heritage from a writer – Christine To – well-known for her postmodern twists on the kung fu origin story. She gave Hou Yuan-chia a glossy modern makeover in 2006’s Fearless, and covered Beggar So’s formative years for 2010’s True Legend. At times, this feels more like a straight-up period crime story, with the Fei-hung elements added almost as an afterthought. The flashback sequences will be more familiar to kung fu film fans, showing Wong’s childhood with his father, Wong Kei-ying (Tony Leung), a philanthropist, doctor and owner of an orphanage in slight shades of 1993’s Iron Monkey. Corey Yuen’s choreography relies heavily on gimmicks, including some really pronounced sound effects, clunking big weapons, satisfying slow-motion, distracting wire work, and a neat point-of-view aspect which puts the viewer in the thick of the action – like in a computer game. Some of it works, but most of the time it’s a sensory overload. Director Roy Chow maintains a great sense of setting throughout, with lavish design recreating a particularly turbulent time in China’s colonial past, nicely documented over the final credits with original photography from the period. Eddie Peng – fresh from his MMA hit, Unbeatable – makes for a handsome young Wong Fei-hung, and by placing him in more of a gangster setting, he manages to avoid any unfair comparisons to screen legends like Kwan Tak-hing and Jet Li. This is very much a different approach to the source material, and although it is far from perfect, it is still quite a bold and brave endeavour.

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