A familiar but generally well made tale.

by Martin Hafer

Before I can really discuss Rise of the Legend, I need to give you some background. This isn’t especially clear in the film and for non-Chinese audiences, the setting might be confusing. In the 19th century, various nations forced the weak Chinese Ch’ing leaders to accept their presence in the country. Countries like Britain, Russia, France and even Japan carved out portions of China to be used as bases for trade, and one of the ways they made money was in the opium trade. Additionally, Chinese warlords and gang leaders worked with these foreigners to exploit the country and its wealth. Not surprisingly, the common people resented this. These foreigners and their Chinese partners were getting rich and had little regard for the damage they were causing.

Rise of the Legend
Directed by
Roy Hin Yeung Chow
Sammo Kam-Bo Hung, Eddie Peng, Luodan Wang
Release Date
February 2015
Martin’s Grade: B+

This led to a variety of wars (such as the Opium Wars and, later, the Boxer Rebellion), eventual unification and the abolishment of the Emperor–who seemed to care little about the plight of the people or the weakness of his country. One hero, during this period of civil war and chaos, was Wong Fei-hung (also known as Huang Feihong). His prowess with martial arts made him a rallying point and many of his exploits have been celebrated and exaggerated in movies over the years, such as Jet Li’s Once Upon a Time in China and Jackie Chan’s Drunken Master. The latest in a long line of semi-biographical films is Rise of the Legend.

In this version, the earlier part of Wong Fei-hung’s life is explored by director Roy Hin Yeung Chow and the legendary man himself is played by Eddie Peng. While Peng is not exactly a household name, his martial arts skills are superb here–mostly because they’re both incredible to watch and generally believable. Little so-called “wire fu” is used in the film and heroes do bleed and get the snot kicked out of them from time to time. The only part I had a hard time believing was watching the familiar Sammo Hung fighting the hero to nearly a draw. While Hung has made a ton of martial arts films (many with his friend Jackie Chan), he is in his 60s and, well, a bit rotund (I have no reason to talk in this department)–and seeing him battle Peng did take some suspension of belief. Although, Hung did amazingly well giving a surprising performance.

Rise of the Legend isn’t an easy film to follow, as it’s assumed that the audience is already familiar with the plot. Additionally, the storytelling is occasionally non-linear, so as I watched, I found that I really needed to pay attention, understand the context and piece it all together in my mind. What you slowly come to realize is that the evil leader of the Black Tiger Gang in Canton, Lei Gong (Hung), has just made Wong Fei-hung his fourth adopted son after Wong single-handedly kills one of Gong’s rivals and takes out a huge number of the guy’s soldiers. You can only assume Wong is evil, as Lei Gong is rich from his profits in selling opium and slavery. However, as the film progresses, you realize that Wong is playing a very deep plan–one that aims to eventually free the slaves, destroy the opium warehouses and aid the common man. Considering that Lei Gong is ruthless, evil, has an army of his own and has three other adopted sons who are amazing with their martial arts skills, Wong’s task seems monumental to say the least!

So is this any good? Well, overall, yes. The action is first-rate, and while not quite as wild as you might find in many other films in the genre, the martial arts looks realistic and authentic. Additionally, there are many story elements that work well. My only qualms are the way the story is presented. As I alluded to above, the film can be a bit hard to follow and sometimes I got the feeling that I’d seen many similar films. I also have considering how many Wong Fei-hung films have come out of China in the last few decades! My verdict is that if you are a fan of the genre and understand the context, by all means watch this one. If not, then it’s not exactly a must-see film…though you certainly can’t go wrong watching it.