REVIEW: DVD Release: The Legend Of Fong Sai-yuk

Film: The Legend Of Fong Sai-yuk
Release date: 6th September 2010
Certificate: 15
Running time: 126 mins
Director: Corey Yuen
Starring: Jet Li, Lung Chan, Adam Cheng, Josephine Siao, Michelle Reis
Genre: Action/Comedy/Martial Arts
Studio: Cine Asia
Format: DVD
Country: Hong Kong

Jet Li stars as the title character in this action romp from venerable film studio Golden Harvest pictures. Made in 1992, this Cory Yuen helmed production has been restored and repackaged for Cine Asia in partnership with American Far East action label Dragon Dynasty.

The movie opens with paranoid Manchu Emperor and oppressor of the Han Chinese having a nightmare where he is killed by the fabled rebel Red Flower Society. He sends out his Governor (Wen Jor) to retrieve a list that tells of all the rebels active in the country. This heavy, ominous opening is quickly tempered with a fun introduction to our title character and hero.

Fong Sai-yuk (Li) is a talented martial artist who, with his friends, likes to get into fights and cause mischief to upset Tiger Lu, a businessman who has bought up most of Fong’s hometown of Guang Dong.

Whilst falling in love with Ting Ting (Reis), the daughter of Tiger Lu, Sai-yuk and his equally tough yet beguiling mother (Siao) find themselves fighting against the Emperor’s Governor, as he comes to their town in search of the Red Flower Society rebel list and the man protecting it - a person very close to Fong Sai-yuk…

The Legend Of Fong Sai-yuk is undoubtedly fun. It clips along at a very brisk pace, neglecting any overly emotional exposition or extensive back story explanation. Perhaps because of this, the sudden move from light-hearted interplay into intense emotion – particularly when Sai-yuk has to retrieve the dead body of a close friend murdered by the Imperial Guard - can be jarring. Jet Li doesn’t stretch himself in this film, playing it for laughs for the most part.

Josephine Siao is the heart of the comedy in this film. Her cantankerous, unapologetic attitudes and her impressive fight skills make her more than a match for the men. As she fights alongside her son, Sai-yuk, they mirror each other’s moves, and prove a formidable, if dotty pair. The representation of a strong female role model and character is very welcome, and something Far Eastern cinema is adept at. Along with the sterling skills of Tiger’s Lu’s wife, Siu Wan (Sibelle Hu) and the gentle but polished acting of Michele Ries, The Legend Of Fong Sai-yuk is almost a film for the girls!

Moreover, as it’s a Cory Yuen production, we can expect too much wire work but also strong, fast choreography. People half fly from roof tops before hands and feet start flying. Jet Li is permitted ample time to showcase his amazing speed, and he does not seem to mind supporting the female leads when it comes to bare handed combat. When fighting to earn the hand of the daughter of Tiger Lu in an open challenge, Sai-yuk and Sui Wan must take each other on with the stipulation that their feet cannot touch the floor. Cue a riotous display of spinning on red cloth and running over people’s heads and shoulders, and flips across great swathes of the townspeople. Other superb combative scenes see a stunning fire-rope versus sword battle between Sai-yuk and the Imperial Guard, as well as a tightly sequenced face-off using wooden staffs as weapons against the Governor.

Of course, this was the era before CGI dominance to iron out the kinks in production. A body falling onto a pyre is obviously a dummy, while the wires used in some of the more elaborate scenes are quite clearly visible. It is also referential to movies that have gone before following the same vein. As Sai-yuk is released from jail for yet more fighting, he tells his friends he gave an alias, and goes into a revered pose as the famous music of legendary Chinese hero Wong Fei Hung is played over, then the music breaks and Sai-yuk says a different name altogether. This pleasant in-joke is also matched with a hark back to Jackie Chan. During a dye-house altercation, and after a series of devastating punches between himself and the Governor are thrown, both men suddenly stop, rub the sore parts of their chests and take a breather.

For all of The Legend Of Fong Sai-yuk's positives, there are a few annoyances. Far too much time is given up to the love story, which is fraught with misunderstanding and duplicity. The movies main plot that was setup in the opening few scenes - the apprehension and annihilation of the Red Flower Society by the Manchu Emperor - seems forgotten until revisited almost forty minutes into the narrative. When serious emotional sentiment is touched upon, it’s disregarded for another pitch at comedy.

The Legend Of Fong Sai-yuk is fun, with a solid and equal mix of male and female character interplay. Any plot niggles are forgotten thanks to the brisk pace, and the spared expense of the effects is charming rather than distracting. JM

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