By Andrew Hamlin
Northwest Asian Weekly
You may not know the name Fei-hung Wong (1847–1924), but if you’re into martial arts movies, you’ve probably seen some semblance of the legendary hero onscreen.
His story of strength, steadfastness, and loyalty provided the backbone for Jackie Chan’s two well-known “Drunken Master” films and also the “Once Upon a Time in China” film series, starring Jet Li.
Between Hong Kong and mainland China, more than 100 film and TV titles have featured master Wong, some fairly close to his real life.
“Rise of the Legend,” directed by Roy Chow, isn’t a straight autobiography, but it emphasizes Wong’s dedication to those around him, which was something Wong exemplified.
Within this story, Wong (played by Eddie Peng) emerges from the corrupt scene along the docks, circa 1868, in China’s busy port city of Guangzhou. He demonstrates such ferocity and inventiveness in battle that he’s summoned before the terrifying Master Lui (Sammo Hung), leader of the Black Tiger gang. Lui wants Wong on his side. But Wong’s playing a game behind the scenes, a long con so complicated that he can’t trust anyone with all the details.
Eddie Peng, a native of Taiwan’s capital city of Taipei, began film acting in his early 20s. He’s played both martial arts heroes and romantic leading men. “Rise of the Legend” allows him to combine the two — appropriately enough, since Wong, in this film, is many things to many people and must always be sure to present the right face for the right occasion. He’s caught between two lovers (played by Angelababy and Luodan Wang). He must juggle his Black Tiger loyalties with his multiple secret missions, always keeping the ultimate purpose in mind.
Peng comes off as charming, ferocious when necessary, and, except in battle, just slightly nervous. A deft touch.
Martial arts fans will of course know Sammo Hung, who trained with Jackie Chan and Yuen Biao at the legendary China Drama Academy, a school for Peking Opera skills presided over by Yu Jim Yuen. He began appearing in films at age 9 and has had more than 75 starring roles — plus directing, producing (he’s a co-producer on “Rise”), running his own film production company, and starring in his own American TV series, “Martial Law.” He’s known for being slightly overweight, but until heart surgery in 2009, that didn’t slow him down on screen.
After leaving the hospital, Hung’s spent more time behind the camera and often contented himself with smaller parts in front of it. Here, though, Hung renders Master Lui with a deft combination of fancy fighting skills (bolstered here and there with CGI effects) and cold determination. He knows everything there is to know about the anthill of humanity, enough to always come out on top. Or so he believes.
Of course, things don’t run smoothly on either side. This is the collapsing Qing Dynasty, and nothing stays stable for long. Lui believes he can definitively eliminate all of his competition, so long as he’s willing to spill unlimited blood.
Wong, the ying to Lui’s yang, wants all corruption eliminated, so the people of the docks can start over fresh.
Two tall orders. And no guarantee that either of them can be filled. But it’s fun, and even educational to watch the immense efforts of these two opposites. (end)
“Rise of the Legend” opens Friday, March 11, at Seattle’s AMC Pacific Place 11 Theater, 600 Pine Street, Pacific Place Mall. For more information, check local listings or visit wellgousa.com/theatrical/rise-of-the-legend.
Andrew Hamlin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.