Posts Tagged ‘Josephine Siao’

Movie Reviews 449 – The Legend (1993)

September 11, 2020

I had to navigate the filmography of the many Jet Li films with the word “Legend” in the title to figure out which of the many movie series’ The Legend fits into. Which is kind of fitting since Li himself is hard to peg in the pantheon of “Legendary” cinematic martial artists. Arguably, among the three heavyweights, Li never had the physical acumen of Bruce Lee, nor the comedic chops (see what I did there?) of Jackie Chan. But when it comes to actual acting skills and range, Li easily tops both among these predecessor wuxia warriors.

As in many martial arts films, the theme of supremacy over challenged opponents is front and centre but surprisingly Li not only shares the limelight but is in some ways outshone by women combatants which figure just as prominently here. While Li is undoubtedly the superior fighter throughout, it is his mother played by longtime martial arts mistress Josephine Siao that stands firmly next in line followed closely by her sometime nemesis in this film, Siu-wan (Sibelle Hu).

The plot intertwines two families, that of Fong Sai-yuk (Li) and that of Ting-ting Lui (Michelle Reis), the girl he falls in love with. Ting-ting’s dad, affectionately called “Tiger” Lui (Chen Sung-young), is something of a village bully who hopes to buy up all the land but at the same time wants to maintain a humble image to others. The Fong family is a particular irritant to him as Sai-yuk’s father is one of the few holdouts refusing to sell. When Lui offers up his daughter’s hand in marriage to anyone who can defeat his wife(!) Siu-wan, the prospective men are quickly disposed of until Sai-yuk hears of the challenge and starts fighting her in a battle where the first opponent to touch the ground fails. But when Ting-ting flees right in the midst of the fighting, she is secretly substituted for a servant and upon noticing this Sai-yuk purposely loses. This results in Sai-yuk’s hooded mother (Siao) fighting Siu-wan in the same aerial manner, the latter thinking it is his brother and developing a spirited kinship as she fights.

It gets a little convoluted but the two families end up pitted against a mean governor acting on the behalf of the emperor and who is trying to get his hands on a list of the members of a secretive Red Flower Brotherhood fighting for justice.

While this is very much a comedy there are many touching moments and not only between the two young lovers which are hardly the most prevalent. The two elder women end up forming a tight bond that ends in a tearful dying moment. Sai-yuk’s mother swoons to any and all poetry which is played both for laughs and more poignant and intimate scenes. There are some running gags, Lui always trying to remain humble being one, but at the same time the film is distressingly sombre and violent.

But this is a martial arts film and in that regard there are plenty of nifty action sequences, again some on the lighter side, some with deadly consequences. The opening sequence had me worried as it was not only disjointed but also has some appallingly cheap special effects but those that turned out to be nothing but a silly dream sequence and thus purposely created for that effect.

Alternately titled simply as Fong Sai-yuk, there are conflicting views on whether the wuxia character was a real person living sometime during the Qing dynasty or whether he was just a fictional character. There was even a Fong Sai-yuk television series at one point but I’m unable to ascertain if that was a spinoff from these movies or a take on ‘the legend’.

All in all another great Jet Li film and another to add to the list of movies such as Fearless and Unleashed where he is much more than simply a fine fighter. Looking forward to finding The Legend 2 (A.K.A The Legend of Fong Sai-yuk 2) sometime soon as it seems to be equally acclaimed.