Story: Wong Fei-Hung (Vinncent Zhao) is a master of martial arts and traditional Chinese medicine. One day, he is attacked by a man who apparently has been poisoned. The substance he took gives him extraordinary strength. Actually, the man is an escaped test subject. A western physician is allegedly trying to cure "the sick man of Asia", Chinese, who have been made opium addicts by Western powers, by inventing a new drug. In truth, he has a different agenda, but under this very pretense he manages to, among others, win over Lu Xiaoyue (Wei Xiaohuan) for his cause. She is willing to dirty her hands and when she meets Aunt 13 (Wei Ni), who works in the same hospital the western physician established as a masquerade, she also finds out where the test subject is. Aunt 13 is after all a good friend of Wong Fei-Hung and together she and him slowly uncover a conspiracy. The Chinese government isn't willing or capable to do something against the Westerners. So it's up to Wong to put an end to the physician's evil doings. When the a new martial arts master in town, Wu (Michael Tong), is secretly given the drug by his students since they want to see their master beat Wong, Wong Fei-Hung has quite a challenge in front of him.
Review: Movie fans my age will have grown up with 90s Hong Kong classics. Since then action cinema has moved forward and this, despite all the criticism on poor CGI, for most part to the better. Well, maybe not always when it comes to Chinese cinema. Thus, "The Unity of Heroes" is a welcome throwback to China during the end of the 19th century when Wong Fei-Hung was China's protector against the "Devils from the West". As in "Once Upon a Time in China", which the movie naturally wants to be compared to, director Lin Zhenzhao certainly doesn't handle the film's motives subtly. He rather displays the same kind of ridiculousness that movies of that time showcased. Is that a good idea? Not really. It may evoke feelings of nostalgia, but quality cinema looks different. Furthermore, the story doesn't make it easy for us to overlook some of the pretty absurd moments.
After Jet Li it was Vincent Zhao who took over the role of Wong Fei-Hung for the fourth and fifth installment of the movie series (and the tv show). For his wooden performance and lack of charisma he received quite some criticism. Today, he manages to make his appearance work more in his favor as can be seen in movies like "True Legend", and so he cuts a decent figure as an older Master Wong in "The Unity of Heroes". Sadly, this doesn't mean that the chemistry between him and his potential love interest is satisfactory, whereas Wei Ni in her role as the damsel in distress is quite forgettable anyway. More interesting is Xiaoyue who blurs the line between good and evil. But the movie isn't truely deep in this regard, of course. Master Wu is also a fascinating character who at some point is used as a pawn, but is actually an honorable man. However, the screenplay was in strong need of someone who would be Wong Fei-Hung's equal in the showdown...
Those who like drinking games will have quite a blast with this movie, considering all the clichés used. Aunt 13 introduces western knowledge and causes a culture shock, a new master opens his school in town and his students disturb the peace, Wong is absolutely heavy-handed when it comes to love and the Westerners are once again trying to poison the Chinese with drugs. Also strking are the shenanigans which at some points bestow an odd flair upon the movie that you even might consider cute if they weren't so sappy. Yes, the humor is a throwback to 90s cinema as well. There is also the bad acting making its return. This becomes especially apparent in the scenes where English is spoken. Next to that, Vlad is of course everything but a well fleshed-out villain. The screenwriters didn't exactly cover themselves in glory. In the end, the plot revolves around a new drug that makes you a supersoldier/-fighter. Do I need to say more?
The movie's message is, particularly in light of China's fight against drugs, presented with a sledgehammer, of course. Westerners were responsible for poisoning the Chinese with opium, there is no doubt about that. But even if Aunt 13 tells us that not all of them are bad, the movie proves different. A little bit more complexity wouldn't have been bad. Regarding the presentation there is nothing to criticize, though. Everything looks like in the original trilogy from the 90s, just with crisper visuals. However, when it comes to the fight scenes there are issues with some scenes being shot in fast-motion. This has been the case back in the day, too, along with wire-fu, which is also present again, yet some of the movements aren't really visible and that takes away some of the fight scenes' impact, particularly in the beginning. Fortunately, it gets better towards the finale.
The showdown, the sets and the color palette evoke feelings of nostalgia as well. The question remains, though, whether or not the movie is worth watching without that. Especially the humor will seem rather odd or even dopey, although the director doesn't exactly overdo it. But the plot alone is ridiculous enough and the motives seem rather bland. You surely don't have a serious reinterpretation here. Instead, this is almost a remake since everything feels pretty familiar. Playing with our nostalgic memories doesn't make a good movie. In the end, "The Unity of Heroes" - why "heroes" in plural and what's with that "unity"? - is certainly an entertaining flick, which nonetheless seems pretty outdated. A few innovative impulses wouldn't have been a bad idea. The way it is the movie is only recommendable to fans of the genre or those of 90s cinema.