If you’re not familiar with the name Wong Fei-hung, allow me to give you a quick rundown on who he was. Fei-hung was born in 1847 and was a famous physician and martial artist who became a folk hero in China. He practiced acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine and saved many lives. He was also known for his highly skilled martial arts. Fei-hung has been the subject of films and television series dating back to the 1940’s. There’s no way I could ever name all the actors who have portrayed the real-life legend but names like Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, Vincent Zhao, Kwan Tak-hing, and most famously Jet Li are just a few. Some would argue that Jet Li’s portrayal is the most popular in the ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA series. Wong Fei-hung has been brought back to the screen by director Chow Hin-yeung in RISE OF THE LEGEND. This time the icon was played by Taiwanese born actor Eddie Peng. What we are given is another solid portrayal of someone who has become a mythological character, even if the film is a tad bit long.
It’s 1868 and two crime families, Northern Sea and Black Tiger, run what is known as Huangpu Port in Guangzhou. Lei Gong (Sammo Hung) wants to rid the port of the Northern Sea gang so his Black Tiger’s can become dominant. He enlists the aid of Wong Fei-hung (Eddie Peng) who is a superior martial artist and could be of great value. Fei-hung becomes his right hand man but the truth is, he has an agenda, a very noble agenda. If his plan actually works, he’ll free slaves, help the poor get some money, and rid the town of the criminal element.
RISE OF THE LEGEND almost plays as if it’s a prequel to the ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA series. It doesn’t waste time introducing you to the character, it jumps right into the action and that’s what most of us want anyways. There’s some really fantastic action scenes (courtesy of the brilliant Corey Yuen) but I never felt like Peng had the same intensity or skill as someone like Li or Chan. I know I shouldn’t be comparing but lets be honest, if you’re a Hong Kong film fan then you’re going to whether you want to or not. Peng does a really good job and since he really isn’t a strong martial artist, the fact he spent over a year in intensive training to take on the role is astonishing, not many actors would, or could, do that. Sammo Hung is a great villain and at 64 years old, he still has it.
The story is tight but there were a few moments, some back story, that could have been trimmed to create a smoother ride but overall, RISE OF THE LEGEND was solid entertainment. If you’re a fan of the early Wong Fei-hung films, this one will not disappoint, and the moment you hear his theme song “On the General’s Orders”, that giddy excitement just may wash over you. With only a few minor complaints, RISE OF THE LEGEND was a pretty solid time and well worth purchasing when it’s released this week.