Legend of Fong Sai-Yuk DVD

Monday, 30 August 2010 11:28

Jet Li takes the titular role in this period martial arts spectacular, set during China’s Ching Dynasty (1644-1911). The story concerns village life under a despotic emperor, and an underground resistance movement’s efforts to overthrow the unpopular regime. The tone of the first half of the movie is nowhere near as dark and serious as that sounds, though, and it is really just an excuse for lots of acrobatic kung fu action!

Fong Sai-Yuk is a mischievous and cocky young man with his heart in the right place. He comes to the aid of a beautiful girl being pestered by ruffians, and promptly falls for her. The girl is called Ting Ting (Michelle Reis); she turns out to be the daughter of a rich merchant who amusingly decides to put donate her as the prize for a martial arts tournament he sponsors, hoping to gain popularity with local villagers.

Legend of Fong Sai-Yuk on DVDThis part of the movie is very light-hearted and action-packed. It feels a little like one of Shakespeare’s comedies, full of humour based around farcical slap-stick, mistaken identity and cross-dressing. Li proves himself capable of acting with a lighter touch, which comes as a little bit of a surprise after seeing him play so many earnest, deadly serious or evil characters.

A large part of the film concerns Fong Sai-Yuk’s relationship with his parents, especially his mother (a very nimble Josephine Siao). Whilst they both get an occasional beating from the strict father, they fight for their family’s honour and the mother is just as skilled at martial arts as Fong. The partnership has great chemistry and they make a formidable fighting duo.

The stakes are raised later on in the movie, as one of the Emperor’s ruthless governors (played with immense arrogance and athleticism by Man Cheuk Chiu) tracks down the base of the Red Flower Brotherhood resistance movement. The fight scenes start resulting in injuries and death rather than mere bruises. The bold, bright colours of the first half transform into gloomy grays and browns as the themes shift from jovial antics and romance, to war and national pride. Fortunately, the shift is fairly gradual and the film never gets too serious or bogged down.

The action scenes are exciting and energetic, as you would expect from the likes of Li and Director Corey Yuen (“The Transporter”, “The Enforcer”, and one of the action choreographers on “The Expendables”). As there is a lot of wirework, few of the fights feel natural but you quickly adapt to the action style and get sucked in. Some of the battles are funny and some are tense, as when Fong has to fight the governor whilst also trying to save someone from an execution by guillotine. Most of the sequences make good use of available furniture and building structures to keep them from feeling flat and two-dimensional.

Whilst I would not rank this movie alongside the likes of “Ip Man”, it is highly entertaining and more suitable for family viewing than adult entries in the martial arts genre, largely thanks to a scarcity of blood and plenty of comedy. The action rarely lets up, and the characters are very likable.

The DVD comes with a couple of interviews – one with the director (20 minutes) and one with the writer, Jeff Lau (13 minutes). Corey Yuen has some interesting things to talk about, including working with Bruce Lee in the early 1970s, and more recently making movies in the USA to help sate Americans’ love of kung fu. There are also some trailers for other movies on the same DVD label.

“The Legend of Fong Sai-Yuk” (1993) is released on DVD on 6 September 2010, under Cine Asia’s Dragon Dynasty label. The running time of the main feature is 92 minutes approx, certificate ‘15’ and the movie retails for £15.99, or less from www.culttvstore.com

Last modified on Thursday, 10 May 2012 16:37

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