Story: Wong Fei-Hung (Eddie Peng) wants to become one of master Lei's (Sammo Hung) sons. Lei is the ruthless leader of the Black Tiger Gang
and with the help of his three sons is firmly in control of Guangzhou. Next to the opium dens and brothels that he owns it's also impossible to do business at
the harbor without his approval. Even Westerners do business with him. When Lei asks for the head of a rivaling gang leader Wong seizes the opportunity to gain
Lei's trust. He becomes one of his sons. But he actually provides the Orphan Gang, a righteous group led by Wong's friends Fiery (Jing Boran) and Chun (Wang
Luodan), with important information. Wong tries to play the three sons off against each other and get two keys in his possession that open Lei's treasury.
As a child Wong Fei-Hung had to watch his father die at the hands of similar thugs and now he tries everything in his power to bring law and order back to
Guangzhou. Even if this means that he has to play a gangster himself...
Review: It has been quite a while since we last saw folk hero Wong Fei-Hung on screen. Yip Man and his countless pseudo-biographical
adaptations were simply more in demand. But now there is finally an attempt at a reboot. The end result scores with modern visuals and solid directing,
yet falls far short to Tsui Hark's "Once Upon a Time in China". For most part this is because the story
steers away from the national hero and centers around a purely fictional plot around justice and freedom in which Wong could have been replaced by any
other hero. It's even the more irritating that the undercover story of the film apparently wants to give some dark shades to Wong's character,
but for this the individual personalities just aren't drawn multi-layered enough.
"Rise of the Legend" deals with its source material in a respecful way and tries to carry the folk hero to the big screen in a way that resonates with a young
audience. Still, because of this the hero somewhat lacks righteousness and purity of character, but after all Wong is still an unpolished gem and so this might
be fine in a way. However, less accomplished are the relationships between the different individuals. This becomes especially apparent in the bond between Wong
and Lei. There seemingly is supposed to be some kind of teacher-student relationship and the inevitably betrayal of Lei by Wong is supposedly standing as a small
moral dilemma, which becomes particularly obvious at the end, but at no point it is conveyed convincingly enough. For this the relationship between the two is
neglected too often. In fact, this would have given the film an interesting spin and so the decision to refrain from implementing it remains
It's likewise questionable how instead the movie is overloaden with countless characters of which accordingly not a single one is dealt with appropriately
or even manages to make a lasting impression on the viewer. Unfortunately, this also applies to Wong Fei-Hung. Eddie Peng
("Unbeatable", "Tai Chi Zero") brings a strong physique to the screen and the camera pauses on his
abs one time too many, but this sort of fan service for the female audience probably can't be avoided. Apart from that Peng delivers a solid performance
and accordingly doesn't shame himself. But that's it. The youthfullness and vulnerability of his character going hand in hand with his untamed nature
may fit to a young Wong Fei-Hung, but you still would have expected more depth of character.
Among the rest of the individuals we only have Chun who might be considered interesting, forming a love triangle with a brothel worker and Wong, which is never emotionally captivating, though. Which is just the way things generally are in "Rise of the Legend". We never feel emotionally captivated by the events. One of the reasons may be the episodic nature of the film. The several chapters are so obvious that you could easily take a break between them. This also leads to issues with the pacing. Certain parts of the movie drag on, even though the additional time could have been used to give the characters more color. Furthermore, it proves to be a real pain that the screenplay doesn't just feature numerous flashbacks, but also explains them to us in dialogues, although we were already capable of getting the whole picture. There are actually viewers out there with brains, you know...
The action is easy to the eyes, but not really well-accomplished. The high definition slow-motion sequences put form over substance and so the fight in the rain is particularly reminiscent of "The Grandmaster". Corey Yuen's choreography is quite good in itself, it's just that there aren't many fights and especially the showdown against Sammo Hung ("SPL") is a disappointment, although Sammo delivers the best performance of everyone involved. Eddie Peng's movements are a bit too unpolished. But Roy Chow's ("Nightfall", "Murderer") directing features nice pictures and because of the constant use of crane shots he also creates almost epic scenes. Yet, despite appealing visuals and a solid story the movie lacks sophisticated characters and a good pacing. Maybe considering a running time of 131 minutes it would have been a good choice to do without some of the slow motion shots and by that cut the movie down for about 15 minutes...