The New Legend of Shaolin

This Jet Li/Wong Jing film is an odd mix of terrific action and low brow comedy. The action – of which there is plenty – is very wire enhanced but is incredibly well done – with some absolutely brilliant fast moving moments. The comedy on the other hand feels out of place and very silly at times. I can almost hear Wong Jing (the director/ producer) saying to Jet Li “yes I know they come to see you fight, but they would be so disappointed if they didn’t get some rectal humor”. It’s almost like two different films, trying to appeal to two different audiences. Still, in total this is a very entertaining film. It gets off to a great start – sags in the middle – and then the last thirty minutes are a blast of adrenaline.

The Ching (Qing) Dynasty (1644-1912) has taken power from the Mings (1368 -1644), but there are still rebel elements around China that are attempting to return the Mings to the throne. Jet Li is one of these rebels and in the opening scene he returns to his home to find that everyone except his son has been massacred by the government troops. Knowing that he will be a fugitive on the run, Jet takes a page from Lone Wolf and gives his son a test. If the infant reaches for the toy – he dies – if he reaches for the sword  - Jet will take him along on his travels.

Outside waiting for Jet and his son is a former friend - turned traitor - and nearly 20 ninjas. In a great action piece Jet kills all the ninjas and leaves the traitor for dead. Jet is a master of the spear in this film and throughout the movie he performs some amazing moves with it.

Seven years pass, but the rebellion is still alive. At a Shaolin Temple, the head monk knows that the government forces are closing in so he tattoos a map showing the location of buried Ming treasure on the backs of five Shaolin boys.  Jet and his son – grown up into the very talented Tze Miu (My Father is a Hero)– are still wandering the countryside and trying to avoid discovery. In a small town they come upon the beautiful Chingmy Yau. She is in the Town Square over the body of her dead mother – selling herself to raise enough money to bury her.  Any interested buyers out there? How noble of Chingmy. Well, not exactly as we soon discover that she is a scam artist and thief and that the mother (Deannie Yip) is very much alive.
This middle section slows down and throws the film off kilter to some degree. It focuses on the kids and Tze Miu, the Chingmy scam and the growing attraction between Jet and Chingmy. There is one splendid sequence though in which Jet and Chingmy engage in a marvelous kung fu clothes fitting duel.
These threads all come together and soon Jet, Tze Miu, Chingmy and the mother team up to protect the five boys from hundreds of soldiers and the evil traitor that Jet left for dead years before. The traitor has returned (a little on the burnt side) with great powers and a silver mobile car like contraption (very strange and unexplained). The last thirty minutes is one action piece after another as they keep the boys out of harm’s way. The final fight is the best yet as Jet and son team up to take on the traitor. The teamwork is simply poetry in action. Great stuff. There was another sequence that was visually stunning and one of the types of things that I love about HK films. Large silver balls come flying over a fortress wall and open up to reveal ninjas hidden within who then use the razor sharp edges of the open metal ball to slice and dice the people inside. Another powerful sequence is when the mother leads the children down an alleyway only to find a large enemy force waiting for them. She realizes that it is up to her to somehow protect the boys. It turns out that she knew a thing or two about kung-fu in her youth and a great fight ensues.

Jet is at his intense best here – never smiling until the last frame and thankfully staying far away from the comedic bits– and the choreography is just great fun to watch. If Wong Jing could have cut back a little on the corny comedy it just would have made the film much better, but the inspired parts more than make up for having to sit through the sillier bits.

My rating for this film: 8.0

Reviewed by YTSL
Never have I been so exasperated by Wong Jing.  NEW LEGEND OF SHAOLIN could have been an excellent, maybe even great, historical action drama.  However, its director and producer seems to have been not only content to aim for okay but also, by trying to jam in some comedy which only seemed incongruous at best and painful at other times, made a movie that is too schizoid to truly please anyone.

This production starts off with a devastatingly realistic looking scene of the hero, Hung Shi-Kwan (played by Jet Li), coming across the dead bodies of people he holds dear.  In the ruins of his home, he looks for
his infant son and seriously contemplates killing him so that he can join his deceased mother.  The kung fu master's decision not to do so is less influenced by love but by the certainty that the son (played for the bulk of the film by the amazing Tze Mui) has his priorities right for a harsh world.  At this juncture, the tone of the film is grave and the emphasis seems to be on depicting some moving moments.

While a solemn Jet Li and earnest Tze Mui combo can make for a seriously good dramatic as well as action movie (witness "My Father is a Hero"; directed by Corey Yuen Kwai, who was this film's action director as well as the director of such "classics" as "Yes, Madam!" and "Fong Sai Yuk"), I must say that I initially welcomed the comic relief that was injected into this production by the appearance of Chingmy Yau and -- albeit to a lesser extent -- Deannie Yip as a daughter-mother pair of flimflammers.  To be sure:  There definitely were some amusing sequences involving these two comic actresses (I particularly liked the clothes-making fight between Yau and Li; and Yip interacted well with Tze and the five other children who have significant screen time in this movie).

Before too long though, the farcical sequences were undermining the dramatic portions of the film seriously.  Worse was to come in the form of the destruction of any credibility with regards to the fight scenes with the appearance of what honestly looked like a shielded, shiny metal CAR (that might not have looked out of place in a futuristic fantasy movie like "Saviour of the Soul" or "The Heroic Trio") along with "no shadow" kicks and other wire-fu staples.  When Wong Jing ends the movie by appearing as -- ha, ha...not! -- Wong Fei Hu, I wished that someone had made his cameo more memorable by kicking his butt and sending him flying (or worse).

In closing, it is hard for a film that stars Jet Li, Tze Mui and Chingmy Yau to not entertain at some level.  I just wish that Wong Jing had put the talents that he had at his disposal here to greater use (the way this prolific moviemaker did with, say, "High Risk", whose cast included Li and Yau along with Jacky Cheung and Charlie Yeung).

Rating for the film:  6.