Review: RISE OF THE LEGEND 黃飛鴻之英雄有夢 (2014) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Review: RISE OF THE LEGEND 黃飛鴻之英雄有夢 (2014)

2 stars
RISE OF THE LEGEND is only partially entertaining, but pretty much a failed attempt to resurrect the cinematic reincarnation of the Wong Fei-Hung for a new generation.

For decades, Tsui Hark's ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA series -- particularly the first two movies which released in 1991 and 1992 -- was unquestionably the best Wong Fei-Hung movie ever made. After being sidelined for so long since many Hong Kong productions nowadays turn their attentions to crafting numerous Ip Man movies, it's finally nice to see the story of legendary martial arts master Wong Fei-Hung made a comeback with the highly-anticipated RISE OF THE LEGEND. In charge of putting this epic revival together is Roy Chow, who last directed 2009's MURDERER and 2012's NIGHTFALL -- two of among most disappointing high-profile Hong Kong movies I've ever seen in recent years. While RISE OF THE LEGEND is no doubt Chow's most ambitious project ever tackled, it's a shame that he has once again failed to prove himself as an accomplished director.


Set in 1868 during the darkest days of the Qing Dynasty era, this origin story chronicles around Wong Fei-Hung (Eddie Peng), who joins as a recruit of the notorious Black Tiger gang, ruled by Lei Gong (Sammo Hung). For years, there has been a power struggle between the Black Tiger and the Northern Sea gang over the control of the lucrative Huangpu Port. But it is not until Fei-Hung impresses Lei Gong by successfully killed and brought the head of the Northern Sea leader (Chen Zhi-Hui). Lei Gong immediately made the young recruit as his fourth godson. As Fei-Hung slowly made his way to the top while earning the trust from Lei, he's been secretly scheming with his childhood friends Fiery (Jing Boran) and Chun (Wang Luodan) to take down the Black Tiger gang in the name of justice and vengeance, which has something to do with their tragic past.


Visually speaking, RISE OF THE LEGEND is especially blessed with Pater Wong's great production design who successfully recreates the setting of the 19th-century era of Guangdong city. Some of the stylized slow-motion cinematography used during the fight sequences are thrillingly staged to make use of the obvious look of the 3D effect, even though the movie only gets to show here in Malaysia in a digital 2D version.

Even though Eddie Peng is no match to Jet Li's iconic portrayal as Wong Fei-Hung, he still manages to show a considerable amount of charisma and athleticism as well as proving his worth playing a convincing martial arts fighter for his role. As the main villain of the movie, Sammo Hung delivers a commanding performance as the fearless Lei Gong. Feng Jia-Yi is suitably cast in a cunning role as Lei Gong's first godson, North Evil. Jing Boran is decent enough in his role as Fiery, while Wang Luodan provides an equally strong support as Chun. Tony Leung Kar-Fai, who only appears as a cameo in a few flashback sequences, manages to make good use of his limited screen time with an earnest and dignified quality as Fei-Hung's father.


The thrilling fight scene that begins with Fei-Hung battling against the Northern Sea leader, before engaging in a one-man showdown against the Northern Sea gang in the back alley amidst the rainy day, is the one and only most impressive action sequence I truly enjoyed in this movie.

Like his previous two movies, Roy Chow continues to repeat his same old mistake putting up too much heavy exposition where he loves to over-explain the story as literal as possible. Because of this, it's easy to see why the movie is stretched to an unnecessary 131-minute length. Seriously, it could have been trimmed shorter if Chow understands the rule of restraint and the power of visual storytelling to keep things more interesting. Unfortunately, he just doesn't know when to quit each time the story goes deeper and deeper. And speaking of the story, I do appreciate the effort that Christine To has put into her screenplay. Frankly, the plot which involves Fei-Hung's elaborate scheme to outwit some of the Black Tiger's leading gang members one at a time, actually has huge potential but unfortunately ruined by Chow's haphazard direction.

The subplot, which involves a love triangle between Fei-Hung, Chun and Orchid (Angelababy), drags the movie a lot with a lack of emotional depth needed to make the scene work in its favour. Faring even worse is the casting of Angelababy, who relies heavily on her photogenic beauty to do the talking and her performance as a courtesan is as good as a piece of plank.

Other than Angelababy, some of the supporting actors are also criminally underwritten. That includes Zhang Jin, who plays as a vengeful son of the Northern Sea leader and Wong Cho-Lam as Big Tooth.  

Apart from the aforementioned fight sequence, Corey Yuen's martial arts choreography is sadly inconsistent as the movie progresses further. The subsequent fight sequences are lacklustre, especially when the camerawork is either moving too fast or getting too close until it's hard to enjoy the beauty of the martial arts movement. Even the supposedly exciting showdown between Fei-Hung and Lei Gong in a burning warehouse fails to generate a much-needed spark to end the movie in a satisfying manner. Not to mention the inclusion of the spotty CGI fire which made the particular scene more disappointing than it already is. 


Overall, RISE OF THE LEGEND is a missed opportunity that could have been better if handled by a more qualified director.

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