What? Again? Already?
The Legend, directed by Cory Yuen. Written by Kay On, Chan Kin Chung, and Tsoi Kang Yung. Produced by Chui Po Chu. Executive Producer Jet Li. Golden Harvest. American release from Dimension Home Video. 95 minutes. Rated R.
I better stop winning the weekly wrestling match or else broaden my viewing habits or I'm going to have to rename this blog The Kung Fu Catholic and I don't think anybody wants that. It's just that I've been watching so much kung fu lately it's getting harder to lose when I fight, what with the ability to run up walls and fly short distances. Besides, the other members of the household are pretty easy to beat: Frederick the unicorn is a thinker, not a doer; Snuffles is all claws and teeth, but he's out instantly if you get him in a "sleeper" hold; and Phenny the Phoenix became a pushover after we instituted the "No Spontaneously Combusting Your Opponent" rule.
The good news about this particular kung fu movie is that I think I can understand the plot. In short, the corrupt Manchu emperor is threatened by the secretive Red Flower Society, and so he has dispatched an assassin to destroy them. But never mind that because meanwhile, a rich man named Tiger Liu (Sung Young Chen) has decided to hold a kung fu contest: whoever can beat Tiger's wife Siu-wan (Sibelle Hu) at kung fu can marry his daughter, the beautiful Ting Ting (Michelle Reis). The likable, funny, slightly zany, and highly energetic Fong Sai-Yuk (Jet Li) enters the contest and after a creative battle involving the ultimate form of crowd-surfing, very nearly wins--until he gets a look at a servant girl he mistakes for the bride, after which he purposely loses.
His equally funny, zany, and energetic mother Miu Chui-Fa (Josephine Siao) is displeased at the loss, and so she does the natural thing: she dresses as a man and wins the fight herself, thereby accidentally winning the heart of Tiger Liu's wife as well as the hand of his daughter. Tiger Liu insists somebody from the Fong household is going to marry his daughter, so he catches up with Fong Sai-yuk and captures him at swordpoint, leading to plenty more opportunities for misunderstandings, slapstick, and kung fu fighting.
In the movie's last third, the humor dries up because someone somewhere remembered the plot: it turns out Fong Sai-Yuk's deadpan father (some actor) is a member of the Red Flower Society, entrusted with a list of all the members' names, a list eagerly desired by the emperor's assassin (some other actor). There's a little tragedy, a good deal of melodrama, some severe beatings, and a character who's supposed to look important but who we don't care about because he gets no introduction.
The relatively streamlined plot puts this movie a notch above many kung fu films (and the excellent DVD rendering by Dimension helps immensely). The charismatic personalities of both Jet Li and Josephine Siao could make just about any movie enjoyable, and they have plenty of opportunity to shine here, especially when they're fighting side-by-side. The last act, too, has genuinely moving moments, but it weighs too heavily after all the silliness, making the movie decidely lopsided. And though the plot is worthy of Shakespeare, the script, at least in the English dub, is a major clunker.
My biggest beef with this movie, and it is major, is that one of the film's many crazy jokes involves wifebeating. Yes, you read that right. Someone should perhaps kindly inform the writing team of Kay On, Chan Kin Chung, and Tsoi Kang Yung that the subject simply isn't funny. I feel like I may be treading on historical issues here, but I don't care; it isn't funny. It's also slightly odd in a film where most of the women can kick most of the men's butts.
The Sci Fi Catholic's Rating for The Legend:
Myth Level: Medium (well, it's got wire-fu...)
Quality: Medium-High (good rendering, decent cinematography, good story, some heaviness in the last third)
Ethics/Religion: Medium-Low (we got heroism, a love of justice, some chaste marriage...and wife-beating)
Filmography links and data courtesy of The Internet Movie Database.