Eye For Film >> Movies >> The Legend Of Fong Sai-Yuk (1993) Film Review
Jet Li and Corey Yuen’s The Legend of Fong Sai Yuk isn’t the first portrayal of the this mythical character, but it’s by far the most entertaining. It’s like Robin Hood; but with cross-dressing, wire-fighting kung-fu and innuendo laden slapstick.
The scene is 18th-century Qing dynasty China, the Canton Guangdong region. The inhabitants are oppressed by the sadistic Governor (Man Cheuk Chiu) who’s been sent to root out the Red Flower Society who are set on assassinating the corrupt Qianlong Emperor. It is a time of unrest. Locally, Manchu bigshot Tiger Lui (Sung Young Chen) has been buying up land, generally throwing around his weight, and is surprised to learn that the locals have rather taken a dislike to him. To try to make community reparations he decides to hold a martial arts tournament to see if any hero can defeat his wife and earn the hand of his beautiful daughter in marriage - enter the heroic trickster Fong Sai Yuk (Jet Li).
Fortunately the elaborate back-story is more than a springboard for the action sequences - which are some of the very best you’re likely to see - and actually stands up as comic glue for the proceedings - even if some of the humour is lost in translation. The most entertaining facet of this is the mistaken identity farce between the two martial artist mother-in-laws, Josephine Siao and Sibelle Hu, who become romantically entangled after a cross dressed wire-fu face-off.
The Wushu combat is generally creative and playful, punctuated with occasional gruesome scenes. The standout set-piece is the aforementioned tournament sequence in which Fong Sai Yuk takes on Madame Lui. Their battle begins on a multi-tiered wooden platform but soon escalates and combat continues on the heads of the crowd surrounding the stage, soon embroiling the crowd and leading to some beautifully choreographed action, expertly shot and edited.
It still has its failings; there are some archaic sexual politics, some of the sets are obviously made of rubber and none of the leads are going to win awards for their acting, but the good far outweighs the bad. It’s an action comedy, but it’s clearly moving towards the serious big budget martial arts epics like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hero by toning down the overly slapstick comedy - compared to the Jackie Chan movies of the same era - and having superior production values. The Legend Fong Sai Yuk is something of a stepping stone between the cheesy action slapstick of Kung Fu movies of the Eighties and the inscrutable Westernised epics of the last decade.
Fong Sai Yuk is often cited as being Jet Li’s breakthrough role in the West - it didn’t make him a household name, but it opened the door for a plethora of minor Hollywood roles which soon did, and when you watch the fantastic set pieces you can see why.Reviewed on: 09 Mar 2011