Late 1800s Foshan, Guangdong: Wong Fei Hung/Jet Li trains men in martial arts to help defend against foreign powers already holding Hong Kong and Macau. He looks after cute 13th Aunt, who's just returned from England. Lots of fight scenes.
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Set in late 19th century Canton this martial arts film depicts the stance taken by the legendary martial arts hero Wong Fei-Hung (1847-1924) against foreign forces' (English, French and American) plundering of China. When Aunt Yee arrives back from America totally westernised, Wong Fei-Hung assumes the role of her protector. This proves to be difficult when his martial arts school and local militia become involved in fierce battles with foreign and local government. As violence escalates even Aunt Yee has to question her new western ideals, but is it possible to fight guns with Kung Fu?Written by
Michele Wilkinson, University of Cambridge Language Centre, <firstname.lastname@example.org>
(at around 39 mins) When Aunt Yee is fitting Fei-hung for a suit, she sees his shadow on the wall. Standing a few inches behind him, she traces his silhouette with her finger, obviously without touching him. However, when she touches his shadow ear, it flickers, meaning she actually touched his real ear. See more »
Great martial film, too ambitious with all its intended messages
This movie, directed by Tsui Hark, embodied some of the best Kong-fu fight sequences to be found anywhere in the entire genre. Not only were the fights choreographed with amazing skill and dexterity, there was also supreme creativity and use of forces at work here. The angle placement of the camera was always effective and the fight scenes between the hero and his enemies are set up with admirable presence and dignity. Furthermore, the editing was bold and crisp; for the most part everything flowed very well from one scene to the next. Jet Li was unparalleled in his martial arts glamour. His stern demeanor accentuated his role as a leader and a man of principle.
Jet Li played Wong Feihong, a doctor who also happened to be renowned for his skill in martial arts. Against his will, he became involved in combating the local gang, whose rivalry and antagonism was set up by a flimsy pretext. (Apparently gang violence usually are created over the most trifle of instances) On the one hand, Feihong, had to deal with the local thugs, on the other, he had to deal with government officials and foreign mercenaries.
Along for the ride were some touching characters playing Wong Feihong's students, the stuttering Western-educated nerd and the formidably huge pork merchant. The addition of Aunt 13 to the cast added shy romance, providing a nice contrast to all the fighting and constant strife and chaos.
The movie featured a convincing historical backdrop and captured the national Chinese character well, at least, the 19th century, pre-Communist era. The music score was very nicely done and complemented the film well. At times, the movie evoked as much emotion as the characters themselves.
The only problem with this film may be its overly ambitious goals of trying to tackle everything at once. There was the sentiment of saving China from "foreign devils" as well as the sentiment that China was rotting and corrupt at its core, with the Chinese betraying the Chinese. There was also the strong sense of there being too few good men like Wong Feihong, with a strong desire to do right by his country. Over all, the movie's message was multi-layered and complex and can be confusing to the unschooled audience.
Still, this movie, made in 1991, showed off Jet Li's lyrical martial arts grace in full glory and in its best moments, takes fighting to a transcendent level.
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