Stars: Jet Li, Michelle Reis, Jospehine Siao, Chan Chun Yung, Sibelle Hu, Paul Chu, Peter Chan, Vincent Zhaob | Written by Jeff Lau | Directed by Corey Yuen
Review by Baron Fortnightly
As a long time Jet Li fan, and a huge fan of his Fong Sai-yuk series of films, I jumped at the chance to review this release from Cine Asia. First, let’s get the specs out of the way. The 126 minute, 1993 film is presented in 16:9 widescreen, with both a 2.0 Cantonese and 5.1 English soundtrack, and optional English subtitles. Special features consist of an audio commentary from Hong Kong cinema expert Bay Logan, and interviews with director and fight choreographer Corey Yuen, and writer Jeff Lau.
The video quality is not brilliant, but about what you’d expect due to the nature of the movie, its age and original country of origin. The version presented is the Dimension re-scored and re-edited version, which lacks a few minor scenes from the original Chinese release, and also has a few cuts for gore and an illegal horse fall toward the end of the film.
Jet Li plays the title role of Fong Sai-yuk, a Chinese martial artist and folk hero, who was first introduced in Wuxie stories during the Qing Dynasty. He’s a likeable but lazy young man, who enters a martial arts contest held by warlord Tiger Lui to gain favour with the locals and find a husband for his daughter Ting-Ting, played by former Miss Hong Kong and Miss Chinese International, Michelle Reis. As the story progresses Fong Sai-yuk discovers his father is part of the Red Flower Society, an anti-Qing secret society who aims to overthrow the ruling Manchu Dynasty and restore Han Chinese rule.
Director Corey Yuen, writer Jeff Lau, cinematographer Jingle Ma, and actor/producer Jet Li make a great team. Jet’s performance is very broad, as the story quickly goes from romantic & slapstick comedy to serious historical drama based on elements from the novel “The Book And The Sword” by Louis Cha. Corey knows how to play to Jet’s strengths with lots of continuous shots, with many antagonists attacking him from all directions. This film is just one of the reasons that Corey Yuen is in such demand in both the East and West. Jingle Ma sets up some amazing shots, with lots of cold night for night scenes and a beautiful scene shot by the water during the magic hour. Jeff Lau writes some larger than life characters and creates both great character moments and heart breaking scenes; Of course a lot of credit has to go to the experienced cast they assembled.
Miu Chui-Fa, Fong’s mother, daughter of one of the Legendary Five Elders of the Southern Shaolin monastary and martial arts master, is played by famous black and white movie actress Jospehine Siao. Her comedic skills are brilliant and she end up getting most of the laughs, especially when impersonating Fong’s brother to win back the family honour and woo Tiger Lui’s wife. Other recognisable actors include Chan Chun Yung as Tiger Lui, Sibelle Hu as Siu-Wan, Tiger’s wife, Paul Chu as Fong’s father, comedy actor Peter Chan as Fong’s servant Magu, and in his first movie role Vincent Zhao as the villain Governor of Kau Man. After this film Vincent would take over the role of Wong Fei-hung, from Jet, in the films Once Upon a Time in China 4 and 5. In The Legend of Fong Sai-yuk, there area also quite a few intentional jokey references to Wong Fei-hung, a role synonymous with Jet Li at the time.
Although sparse the special features are worthwhile, Bey Logan is on top form with an enjoyable commentary full of facts and trivia, and the interviews are substantial, covering how Corey and Jeff got started in the business, and how their version of Fong Sai-yuk was developed.
I’m a big fan of The Legend of Fong Sai-yuk, it will always be one of my favourite martial arts movies and I heartily recommend it. The world needs more films like this.