Sytlish blend of crime drama and martial art choreography
When I watched Rise of the Legend I wasn't aware that it's the origin story of Wong Fei Hung, so the revelation was a pleasant surprise. Different from many iterations of the iconic kungfu master, this one sets a more gangster oriented approach as Fei Hung tries to rid the city of the cruel mafia. The production is splendid with fantastic shots and clever use of camera during the fight scenes.
Peng Yuan as Fei Hung is a great choice, he brings a brash and sometimes cocky nature that hasn't been seen often in this type of movie. Contradicting the wise mannered Fei Hung, he looks much more reckless, crude and exceptionally younger. The character goes through many developments in the course of the movie as he gradually becomes more mature and weights his responsibility. Also, he looks the part and able to perform the tricky moves.
While this is still an action film, the focus is centered heavily towards crime aspect, including drug dealing, prostitution and other unsavory acts. Depiction of the corrupt city and the intricacy of the criminal empire are shown with high level of pomposity. It has been influenced by more modern vibe and is definitely a darker rendition than most kungfu movie of its kind.
The movie has brilliant cinematography. Lingering poverty, dusty and murky streets, as well as shady dealings underneath dim light are depicted with gritty innate outlook. It fuses with great choreography, creating incredible brawls after brawls. The way the view changes direction, springs above or near the action, and simply effective slow motion make the combat much more enjoyable.
However, the script has some fundamental issues. On occasions, the twists are handled without precision, often making the scenarios seems highly unfeasible. The movie brushes these disparities aside for the sake of pushing the plot. This is counterproductive to the realistic intrinsic it has produced. Some scenes are highly questionable as if the transition into latter arc is forced to make sensational set pieces.
Sammo Hung is a veteran of the genre, but recently he's stuck on the same role. In here he doesn't distinguish himself enough from many other roles he had. It's unfortunate since his character could've had more emotional range. The movie has good foundation for brotherhood and loyalty theme, almost a reminiscence of Gangs of New York, but lacks the necessary complexity to fully realize its potential.
Regardless of the bumps at the middle of the film, Rise of the Legend is an exciting action flick with fresh perspective and aesthetic production.
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