Rise of the Legend AKA Huang feihong zhi yingxiong you meng [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Well Go USA
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (3rd June 2016).
The Film

The life of martial arts grandmaster, physician, and folk hero Wong Fei-hung previously essayed by the likes of Jet Li in Tsui Hark's Once Upon a Time in China series, Jackie Chan in Drunken Master and The Legend of Drunken Master, Donnie Yen in Iron Monkey, and Tak-Hing Kwan in a long-running series between 1949 and 1970 among others gets an origin story in Rise of the Legend from director Roy Hin Yeung Chow (Nightfall). The son of a martial arts grandmaster/physician (The Lover's Tony Ka Fai Leung), Little Fei (To The Fore's Eddie Peng) was orphaned at an early age when Master Li torches his hospital for the orphaned children of laborers after a public confrontation over the gang leader's abduction of Fei's friend Little Fa who he sold into prostitution. Having trained in martial arts alongside fellow orphan Fiery (The Guillotines' Boran Jing) and learned the true meaning of vengeance, Fei works his way up in the Black Tiger Gang who have been engaged in a long feud with the North Sea Gang over control of a pier along the Silk Road and accepts the challenge of Black Tiger Gang Master Lei ('s Sammo Kam-Bo Hung) to bring him the head of the North Sea Gang master (Ip Man's Zhi-Hui Chen) upon which Lei will break the gang's rule and adopt the victor as his fourth son alongside opium den leader North Evil (Jack Feng), gambling den leader Black Crow (Arrow's Byron Mann), and brothel leader Old Snake (Brian Siswojo). Badly wounded not in carrying out the task itself but in slashing his way through hundreds of North Sea Gang fighters in the aftermath, Fei becomes the Black Tiger Gang's Fourth Son. Now in a position of power, Fei sets about sewing dissent between the other sons two of which Master Lei has entrusted with keys to the gang's money vault while Fiery and Chun (The Continent's Luodan Wang), the vengeful daughter of an armed escort the gang had murdered when he would not work for them, have rally "The Orphan Gang" to avenge their murdered parents and brothers against the Black Tiger Gang by going after their business interests and discovering the whereabouts of three hundred men abducted by the gang for overseas work. Meanwhile, the Black Tiger Master's son (The Grandmaster's Jin Zhang) goes into hiding but swears revenge against Master Lei and Fei not only for his father's death but for the loss of business.

Although it took two-and-a-half years to make and boasts some impressive sets, costumes, and some decent-to-good performances, Rise of the Legend boasts several monotonous fight scenes made even more ridiculous by some of the most cartoonish CGI (some digital dismemberings look no better than those seen in the extremely cheap The Mummy Theme Park). The origin story for a celebrated Chinese folk hero actually feels more derivative of Yojimbo and it's various retreads with Fei's infiltrating and manipulation (the supposedly shrewd Master Lei takes his shiftiness for ambition) this time playing members of the same gang against each other rather than the easily decimated North Sea Gang with the only clever bit being an observant Fei warning the Orphan Gang to abort their planned attack by requesting a blind storyteller (A Touch of Green's Kuang-Yao Fan) recite the story "Ambush on All Sides, or Invitation to Step into the Heated Jar" on the port (and then manipulating the syllables of both titles later to prevent himself from being exposed). The final battle goes on past the point of interest with the CGI-enhanced fire not imparting the sense of added danger it should (Hung is still agile although perhaps not as much as the effects would like us to believe). Peng is an energetic protagonist and gets by in other areas of performance thanks to the writing which does not require much range while Hong does what he can with a contrived character. The love triangle between Fei, Chun, and Fiery feels obligatory since Chun is more interesting as the requisite badass than a pining romantic, with Hitman: Agent 47's Angelababy far more compelling as a conflicted love interest as Fei's courtesan Orchid. Amusing but not given much to do until the end of the film is Cho-Lam Wong (Ip Man: The Final Fight) as Big Teeth, a Black Tiger Gang fighter whose loyalties are divided between the gang and Fei who saved his life in a past skirmish. The period production design of Pater Wong (Dumplings) and costumes by Stephanie Wong (The Eye) are gorgeous, as is the cinematography of Man-Ching Ng (Infernal Affairs 2) when focused on the actors and real locations rather panning across CGI backdrops (which may actually be the work of the digital effects crew), but the end result is a two-and-a-half hour diversion rather than perhaps the epic intended.


Due to the film's length, Well Go USA's BD-50 has enough space for a maxxed out bitrate which they take advantage (possibly in the interest of filling out the space rather than for optimal quality concerns). The MPEG-4 AVC 2.40:1 widescreen presentation sports some great close-ups and attractive textures where they exist naturally but some of the CGI and digitally-simulated "motion control" moves across digital sets look flatter and various shots using miniature body cameras during the fights look smeary (although these faults seem inherent in the source). The version here is the original 2D (it was released theatrically and on Blu-ray in Hong Kong in a 3D stereoscopic conversion).


Audio options include the original Mandarin track in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and a Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo downmix as well as a less desirable English dub (also in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and Dolby Digital 2.0). The optional English subtitles have one or two proofing errors but are easy to follow.


The sole extra is a five-part Making-of featurette (each segment has its own brief intro credits). In "Characters" (2:11), the director discuss the character of Wong Fei-hung and how the film differs as an origin story while the actors discuss the film's emphasis on the "four-sided triangle" between Fei, Chun, Fiery, and Orchid. The section on "Eddie Peng" (1:51) finds the gymnast-turned-actor training in martial arts and stunt fighting with positive comments from the director and co-stars. The section on "Injuries" (2:11) only touches briefly upon some of the real incidents while suggesting that modern technology has made Hong Kong genre stunt work less dangerous than before. Actress Wang does relate how she and her co-stars burnt their hands on torches they were required to hold low in the frame while we are shown behind the scenes video of a fight scene in which Zhang gets hit in the eye with a knife hilt and the on-set medical treatment of the cut. The Cinematography (2:19) segment is actually about the film's production design, realizing nineteenth century Guangzhou through sets (including the pier warehouse made entirely of wood), digital augmentations, and the use of real surrounding locations that required only some set dressing to look the way they did back then. The "Special Effects" (2:11) looks more at the wire work and the special camera rigs created to realize the action on set before the digital work. The film's theatrical trailer (1:43) and previews for other titles are included (the previews appear at start-up but are also available from the main menu).




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