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Film review: Cantonese hero Wong Fei-hung made to speak Putonghua in Rise of Legend

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 26 November, 2014, 10:08pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 November, 2014, 10:27pm

Eddie Peng Yu-yan, Sammo Hung Kam-bo, Jing Boran, Wang Luodan, Angelababy Yeung Wing
Director: Chow Hin-yeung
Category: IIB (Putonghua)

Cometh the hour, cometh the man. At a time when Hong Kong is crying out for leaders to inspire and believe in, its filmmakers have turned once again to celebrated martial arts master Wong Fei-hung.

Set in 1868, when the folk hero would have been just 21 years old, the protagonist in Chow Hin-yeung's take on the popular legend is considerably younger than those portrayed by Kwan Tak-hing (in scores of Cantonese dialect films) and Jet Li Lianjie (notably in Once Upon a Time in China). But he's already more mature than the pre-teen incarnation essayed by actress Angie Tsang Sze-man in Iron Monkey.

Wong's age in Rise of the Legend probably won't set tongues wagging. But the fact that he does not speak Cantonese probably will. That aside, local cinemagoers should find plenty to like about this ambitious period action epic, including many activist-oriented sociopolitical messages that are relevant today. "Even if to the very last heartbeat, I have to make sure my opponents fall," are among the first words in this movie scripted by Christine To Chi-long.

It starts with Wong Fei-hung (Eddie Peng Yu-yan) in the guise of a member of the powerful Black Tiger Gang, headed by the fearsome Lei Gong (Sammo Hung Kam-bo, also one of the film's co-producers).

Made one of the boss' godsons after he delivers the head of the rival North Sea Gang's leader to Lei Gong, Wong seems to have quickly risen to a privileged position. He has a number of men at his beck and call and is able to avail himself of the services of a nubile courtesan (Angelababy Yeung Wing).

But as those familiar with the legend of Wong Fei-hung will know, he's no gangster at heart. It's revealed that his true loyalties lie with the righteous Orphans, who are bidding to eliminate the underworld criminals from the port of Guangzhou. Lots of fighting ensues, choreographed by action director Corey Yuen Kwai.

Rise of the Legend may well turn out to be one of those rare martial arts movies that can claim to have more memorable dialogue and characters than action, at least until the impressive climactic duel.

Taiwanese-Canadian Peng rises to the challenge of portraying Wong Fei-hung in a way that's sufficiently fresh to leave his own mark on the character. But it's Hung who endows this film with weight and heft.

Also impressive in a lesser role is Jing Boran as the close comrade who, like Wong Fei-hung, was trained in martial arts and morals by a monk.


Rise of the Legend opens on November 27