As near to faultless a martial arts film of its era as they come
I've seen Legend Of A Fighter a few times and no doubt I'll see it a few more, its that kind of rewarding and thoroughly pleasing film. Whilst it tells a standard "classic" story, it does so with a level of feeling and class that elevates it far above average and makes every turn interesting, even if we can guess whats going to go down at the end. The story tells of Fok Yun Gap, youngest of his family and a weakling, forbidden to learn kung fu by his father, who prefers him to be a scholar. He secretly does learn kung fu though, with the help of his mysterious Japanese tutor and becomes well, a legendary fighter, but his use of his skills ultimately leads to a sad turn in events and a stirring and poignant climax. The key to this film is its deft combination of plentiful classy fight scenes with likable characters, fine performances and genuine emotional heft, a combination that allows the film to go reasonably heavy on the fighting and power through a fairly conventional plot whilst still exerting a potent grip on the audience. The stars are what make the film this way, a set of four great performances. Chor Yuen plays young Fok Yun Gap, convincingly weak and downtrodden but with a easy youthful charm and energy, a sympathetic figure and also good at showing the progression of his skills. Philip Ko is excellent as Master Fok, authoritative in his general manner and his fighting, strict and slightly wrong headed, yet earnest and inherently decent enough to always be an engaging and likable figure, with moments of lightness that even allow his character to be a figure of fun. Yasuaki Kurata is perhaps the highlight as the Japanese tutor though, with a demeanour noble yet mysterious, likable yet fierce and hard hitting when he needs to be. His complex performance and mighty skills lead to the question, why on Earth didn't he have more roles like this one. The nominal star, last but not least is old school kung fu veteran Leung Ka Yan, aka. Beardy, though he isn't in this film as the grown up Fok Yun Gap, and in probably his finest role he makes for a great hero, deploying his fighting abilities with force and goodness a tough yet decent man. The stars have fine chemistry and also are able to convey their characters through fighting, such as Kurata with his cunning and unexpected moves, or Chor Yuen takingon bullies with his new skills. All this talent is also key to supporting the films resonant themes of friendship, personal growth, honour and national pride, themes which are powerfully evoked in several moments, especially friendship. The film is fractionally off perfect for its genre, it has just two scenes that stick out. There is a comedic sequence that whilst funny, doesn't fit the overall fairly serious minded feel of the film and one scene that verges on an offputting sort of gloating nationalism, these parts are one after the other and could have been profitably replaced with more training. But as problematic scenes go they do so little to harm the overall greatness of the film that I can't quibble. its a tour de force for all involved and one of my favorite films from director/choreographer Yuen Woo Ping. The film moves beautifully, the characters are nicely drawn and the fighting is excellent, hard hitting and suitably complex, mostly grounded but with a splash of more fanciful moments (ie. Master Fok's egg breaking technique) and a pleasing emphasis on strength that makes for lots of impressive moves. Altogether I'd say this is one of the great martial arts films of its time and pretty much a must watch for genre fans.
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