Tagged: best martial arts movies of the 90s
Blu Review: Jet Li & His MOM Kick Major Butt in THE LEGEND of Fong Sai Yuk!
So I recently gave an long overdue rewatch to ‘The Expendables 2’, as I’ve been pretty curious how the film would hold up over a decade after its initial release. I’m happy to report that yes, it’s still a TON of fun with it’s gigantic bloated cast of classic action heroes. One who really stood out as part of The Expendables cast was Jet Li, even though he really only appears in the wild opening sequence, it’s clear why he was put on the roster in the first installment: he’s one of the greatest action stars to ever grace the big screen! That really sparked an interest for me once again in Li’s earlier work. This time particularly his Hong Kong film career, which I’ve had a bit of a blind spot about for far too long. So I was able to get a copy of a sweet new double feature from Ronin Flix set to drop on Valentine’s Day! The Legend of Fong Sai Yuk 1 & 2 delivered what I suspected I might’ve been missing, Jet Li at his absolute BEST.
As a first time watch I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, except that there’d likely be some impressive martial arts action on hand at the very least. However what The Legend delivered to me was so much more. As a big fan of classic Hong Kong cinema, it really made me a little embarrassed that I wasn’t a bigger fan of Li’s earlier work. First off when I saw it was directed by Corey Yuen, I had a feeling I was probably in for something quite special as he’s responsible for two of my all time fave 80s Hong Kong action bangers ‘Yes Madam!’ featuring Cynthia Rothrock and Michele Yeoh (who’s getting a A LOT of love lately) as well as ‘Righting Wrongs’ with Rothrock again and my personal fave critically underrated icon Yuen Biao.
I’m not sure how or why 1993’s ‘The Legend‘ went under my radar for so long, but I’m happy it did, because I got to watch it for the first time last night. It at first appears almost like it’s going to be a more serious period piece. What it really is though is a non-stop roller coaster of some of the most inventive kung fu action melded with truly charming characters & just the right amount of comedy to keep you smiling ear to ear.
In a nutshell Jet Li stars as Fong Sai Yuk, kung fu expert extraordinaire and just an all around giant ball of charisma. He falls for a rich local mechant’s daughter while competing in a wild sort of “track and field” tournament & also comes to a stunning revelation that his parents are connected directly to the Red Lotus Flower Society, group of rebels with plans to overthrow the evil emperor. Thing go way off the rails, as you might imagine and soon Fong is teaming up with his family to enforce some ass kickin’ justice for all enslaved by the evil empire.
Of course Li finds more zany mischief to get into along the way, resulting in one of my favorite action sequences of the entire movie: a tournament to win the hand of the local rich merchants beautiful daughter in marriage. Just beat his top female bad ass in combat on a huge wooden monkey bar like structure set high above the eager crowd of townsfolk. This is a hilariously entertaining epic duel, as the main objective is to knock your opponent to the ground below, but of course nothing is that simple. Li and his female opponent use every tactic to stay above ground, running across the crowd’s heads and displaying jaw dropping acrobatics.
Even better is Fong’s mom enters the tournament as well, disguised as a man and the results equal more high jinx of the wildest order. The chemistry of Fong and his mother is pretty kinetic too, a truly shining example of tight knit family dynamics on display in all the best & sweetest ways possible-oh and yes his mom is just as talented at kicking butt as he is. In fact it’s quite refreshing seeing just how awesome the women are in this movie, being fully incorporated into all the crazy action at times even more so than the guys.
What makes ‘The Legend of Fong Sai Yuk’ work so well for me is the perfect balance of comedy, action, high stakes & romance that are blended into a period piece. At times Chinese period pieces can be something I might have to force myself to sit down and watch. This though is pure pulpy adventure and luckily it’s not filled with any annoying, often offensive, slapstick “comedy” which can also bog down some otherwise excellent Hong Kong productions. Both Films on the disc have a good lean runtime too around 90 minutes, some period pieces can be a bit long, but this one’s a perfect party actioner. It’s no wonder why Jet Li rose to such acclaim as an international/American action star. I hope Sly Stallone realizes just how lucky he was to have snagged Li for his Expendables movies.
The blu ray from Ronin Flix looks and sounds great as well plus the English dub is really pretty well done. It also features the sequel, also released apparently in 1993 as well. It features a cool interview with Corey Yuen & also with the writer Jeff Lau. All in all if you’re looking for a wild, funny, action packed adventure with a ton of charisma, heart & incredible set pieces then you just can’t go wrong with The Legend of Fong Saw Yuk! A true martial arts bonanza I had the pleasure of viewing 30 years after it’s release for the very first time!