HTS Moderator , Reviewer
Title: Rise of the Legend
HTS Overall Score:79
The legend of Wong Fei Hung is almost as popular in Chinese mythology as Robin Hood is over in England (and by association, America). He was the man that fought for the people in the early 1900s and brought about a sort of revelation by the people according to myth and legend. His exploits have long been recorded on film over the decades, having been played by such greats as Kwan Tak Hing, Zhao Wen Zho, Chin Kar Lok, Jackie Chan, Jet Li and there even was a female interpretation of the character in “Iron Monkey” (played by Angie Tsang). Usually the portrayal of the folk hero is later in his career, after he (or she in the case of Iron Monkey) have garnered the famous reputation that Fei Hung was so feared for. “Rise of the Legend” takes a decidedly gritty life at the very start of the legend’s career. Before he was well known and before he had solidified his honorable reputation. Directed by a fairly new director, but helped out by the choreography of Corey Yuen and Sammo Hung’s production, it acts as a sort of prequel and reboot of the character, kind of like what “Man of Steel” did for Superman.
Wong Fei Hung is actually not a hero in this film. Or at least he doesn’t seem to start out as the legend he will become. Instead he works for the Black Tiger gang, a brutal cadre of criminals who work for master Liu (Sammo Hung) exterminating all of the other gangs in the area. Determined to become the next adopted son of the master (an adopted son in the film acts a trusted lieutenant in the gang), Fei Hung tears through the other gangs on the local pier like they’re tissue paper, earning him his coveted spot at the decision making table. Seemingly intolerant and completely ice cold, Fei earns the trust of the master and the hatred of the other lieutenants at the same time. However, things are not exactly as they seem. While Fei is working his way up the ladder we are privy to flashbacks that reveal his upbringing and the real reason he joined the gang. A reason that is soon revealed to be just what one would have hoped for the legendary outlaw. To unravel the Black Tiger Gang and free over 300 workers that Master Liu is kidnapping for foreign businessmen to work on their trade ships.
While the rest of the gangs are being cut to pieces, Wong Fei Hung and his childhood friends (that we slowly see introduced into modern times over the course of the fairly long film) is breeding mistrust and fear amongst the remaining top brass. Killing off the other adopted brothers one by one he sets up the remaining ones until there can be no hiding from the truth anymore. A truth that causes Fei Hung to step into the light and take a final stand against the grandmaster of crime himself in a fight to the death.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=71001[/img]While I say that “Rise of the Legend” is a bit grittier and darker than the previous iterations of the man, I don’t mean to say that he’s some brooding super hero like what has become very popular in the DC universe. Instead I mean to say that it takes a slightly more foreboding tone and even a bit more sinister take on the character of Wong Fei Hung. Instead of being the man in white the whole time, he masquerades as a gangster for ¾ of the film, killing for master Liu, even forced to betray some of his friends to keep his undercover identity a secret. The fights are brutal and punishing, showing Eddie Peng’s skill as a martial artist (he played the villain in the “Tai Chi Hero/Zero” films) as well as Director Roy Hin Yeung Chow’s unflinching take on violence. The fight scenes are copious throughout and incredibly well choreographed by the legendary Corey Yuen.
As much as I loved the non-stop action and convoluted gangster plotline, I did have a few complaints. The biggest being the fact that some revisionist history has been introduced into the character. Wong Fei Hung is in fact an orphan at a young age, and the film’s flashbacks sequences showcase some of the father/son relationship that we’ve been told about the character, including his introduction to martial arts at a young age and the intimation that he learned the healing arts from his father (even though we don’t actually see him practice them as he does later in life, or the famous Tiger/Crane combination that has revolutionized modern Hung Gar Kung Fu), but sadly we don’t see him employ his famous Tiger/Crane martial arts style that DEFINES the character. It’s almost like giving Batman mystical powers, or Superman the ability to control people with his mind like Professor X. It looks cool, and may work for the uninitiated but the character’s essence in films from the past have revolved around that particular martial arts style.
The story itself can be a bit convoluted and confusing at first, with director Roy Hin Yeung Chow employing flashbacks that jump around through the timeline without warning, which is very similar to how Zack Snyder employs them in his films (another reason I like to compare this film to “Man of Steel”). After a few flashbacks it starts to become more and more clear just what is going on and the intricate plan that the orphans have been devising this whole time starts to clear up and the confusing makes way for realization. It does take a bit of work at first, and sometimes the film feels like it goes on for about 20 minutes too long, but the overall enjoyment with the high octane martial arts and gangster storyline is more than enough to make up for most of these faux paus.
Not Rated by the MPAA
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=71009[/img]“Rise of the Legend” sports a very nice Blu-ray encode that borders on being fantastic if not for a few small flaws. The overall tone and color palette of the film is very gritty and grey, with hints of olive and teal for the flashbacks and a more gold infused tone during the “modern” parts of the film with Fei. Fine detail is usually fantastic throughout, with the viewer able to see the individual zits on Eddie Peng’s face as well as even a little bit of the hair prosthetic blending with the shaved scalps if you look closely. Long shots show off some great detail with a few instances of obvious CGI to keep it from looking perfect. However there IS some intermittent banding that goes on, mostly in the sudden fades and wipes, but the biggest problem is the washed out black levels that obscure shadow detail and give them almost a milky look. It’s something that’s overly aggressive or horribly bad, but it keeps the film from being a 4.5/5 rating. Like many Asian films “Rise of the Legend” was VERY obviously shot and shown in 3D overseas, but given the 2D treatment over here in the states. Fights go through copious slow-mo and pop out style shots that just scream 3rd dimension filming (even a few point of view shots which adds a unique feel to some of the action scenes).
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=71017[/img]Couple with a good looking video encodes is a quad set of audio tracks that really light up the soundstage. There’s a 2.0 track for both the Mandarin language as well as the English dub, and the obligatory 5.1 DTS-HD MA tracks for both languages as well. While the English dub isn’t bad, per se, the Mandarin track sounds much better from a purists standpoint and seems to capture the emotion of the film bit better. Both are aggressive and filled with powerful LFE and bone crunching sound effects for the copious action sequences, and the dialog is crisp and clear as could be despite the overwhelming power coming from the more action oriented bits of the film. Surrounds are active at all time and create a wonderfully rich and 3 dimensional feel to the sonic experience. Pummeling us with fists and feet at some parts and then softening up a bit and allow the ambiance of the city seep through, such as feet on cobble stones, or the rustling of silk as Master Lui glides across the wooden floors.
• Making of” Featurettes
- Eddie Peng
“Rise of the Legend” is a slightly different take on the classic Chinese folk hero, and paints him in a darker light than many other portrayals have done in the past. It feels a bit like “Man of Steel”, where his character and personality are altered slightly and it serves as more of a reboot than a retelling of the classic historical figure. The action scenes are bone crunching and full of high octane fun, while the more dramatic moments can have lightly convoluted feeling due to the quick time jumps that don’t announce or betray the shifting of periods (much like “Man of Steel” does at times). It’s a fun action movie and certainly a different take on a well beloved folk hero. The audio and video on the disc is great, and while there isn’t an enormous amount of special features, the movie DOES come with a classy looking slip cover and is well worth a watch for those who love Kung Fu films.
Starring: Sammo Hung, Eddie Peng, Luodan Wang
Directed by: Roy Hin Yeung Chow
Written by: Chi-long To
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 5.1, Mandarin DTS-HD MA 5.1, English, Mandarin DD 2.0
Studio: Well Go USA
Runtime: 132 minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: May 24th 2016
Buy Rise of the Legend On Blu-ray at Amazon
Recommendation: Recommended For a Watch
More about Mike