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November 09, 2015

Denver Film Festival: Rise of the Legend

rise of the legend.jpg

Huang feihong zhi yingxiong you meng
Roy Chow Hin-Yeung - 2014
Edko Films

The legend in this case is Wong Fei-Hung. This is a new variation of the true life hero for a new generation. Eddie Peng probably has the bigger challenge of stepping into a role that may have had its best iteration with Jet Li as Wong in Tsui Hark's Once Upon a Time in China series. Director Roy Chow is aided and abetted by action director Corey Yuen, himself a very capable filmmaker, in employing the various tricks with the most recent digital technology, building upon the martial arts films of masters like Tsui and King Hu.

This is, as perhaps fitting our times, a darker version of the legend. Peng's Wong is a more serious person. Chow cuts between scenes of Wong's youth as the son of a martial arts master, with his positioning himself as the adopted son of a top gangster. The film begins with an exhilarating street fight, with Wong taking on what seems like one hundred very angry guys, one hundred angry guys with swords. We've got the wire works, the slow-mo, and the cinematography is digitized to the Nth degree. It's kickassery of the highest order, and what a thrill it is to see large scale action done right.

And talk about a legend that rises, Sammo Hung leaps, flies and kicks way as the chief villain. More portly than I can recall, I wouldn't be positive about how much stunt work Hung does here. Even standing still, Hung cuts an imposing figure. That the film has peers Yuen and Hung provides an instant connection to the earlier wave of great martial arts films from Hong Kong. While this new film doesn't have the charm of the chaste romance between Jet Li and Rosamund Kwan in Tsui's films, Wang Luodan is formidable as Wong's childhood friend.

For those who hold onto the idea of purity in the presentation of martial arts, keep in mind that no less than Jet Li has discussed the difference between true martial arts and martial arts as screen performance. The philosophical underpinnings are devoted to why one would master martial arts, rather than how to correctly do the crane-tiger fist.

Roy Chow is a relatively new director, working again with screenwriter wife Christine To. Rise of the Legend is not quite as stylized as his previous film, the neo-noir Nightfall. Working with the kind of resources unavailable to the older filmmakers, Chow makes use of several traveling shots and crane shots both within the large interior spaces, as well as the buildings and alleys of the port city where the film takes place. Unsurprisingly, Corey Yuen won Golden Horse and Hong Kong Film Awards nominations for his action choreography. It is more than likely that if Rise of the Legend is seen more widely stateside, it would be in home video release. See this on the big screen while you have the chance.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at November 9, 2015 09:03 AM