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A carefree young martial arts expert gets involved with a government official's daughter just as he discovers his family is part of a rebel resistance movement. While his fighting ability and charm made him a local champion, his epic battle for freedom would make him a legendary hero.
For more about The Legend and the The Legend Blu-ray release, see the The Legend Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on August 4, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Jet Li, Josephine Siao, Michelle Reis, Adam Cheng
Director: Corey Yuen
» See full cast & crew
The Legend Blu-ray Review
One of Jet Li's goofier martial arts films is an enjoyable romp, despite some problems with this Blu-ray presentation.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, August 4, 2010
Do Chinese cineplexes offer popcorn? That may seem like an odd question—okay, it is an odd question, granted—and yet it's a question that repeatedly sprang to mind as I watched the Jet Li starrer The Legend (originally titled Legend of Fong Sai Yuk) which is a "popcorn movie" extraordinaire. Funny and fleet, with nary a deep thought in its mind (despite a passing attempt or two to manufacture one), The Legend moves through its farcical universe with incredible panache and often an abundance of silliness. If Jet Li is often seen as a stone-faced antidote to his loosey-goosey forebear Jackie Chan, a cursory glance at The Legend proves that while, yes, Li is always stalwart despite his surroundings, he does quite well in a comedy setting, actually helping to set off the humorous fireworks all the more because of his natural reserve and reticence. This folktale sibling to Once Upon a Time in China's Wong Fei Hung covers much the "same old, same old" territory of lore of yore, as an oppressed people fight back against imperious warlords and find their champion in an unexpected member of the downtrodden. What isn't standard operating procedure in this particular retelling is the absolutely goofy humor it employs. I recently reviewed a live Globe Theater production of Shakespeare's As You Like It and lamented the lack of slamming doors, a la French farce. The Legend may not have those slamming doors either, but it at least offers the snaps, whips and cracks of bones being crushed in spectacular kung fu set pieces, certainly a decent enough substitution for the hallmark slams of Feydeau and his farcical kin.
The nuts and bolts of the story in The Legend can basically be boiled down to Li's character, Fong Sai Yuk, and his slow apprehension that his family is part of the revolutionary Red Flower Society, a bunch of Chinese Merry Men simply awaiting their own Robin Hood. Until Fong Sai Yuk can fulfill that role, a number of really odd, if completely entertaining, side stories play out in The Legend, giving the film its almost Monty Python-esque ambience at times. We have Fong Sai Yuk's put upon mother, Miu Chui-Fa (the absolutely hilarious Josephine Siao), who literally kicks butt in a martial arts contest, assuming the role of a mysterious male, after Fong Sai Yuk throws the challenge on the mistaken belief that the prize is an unattractive female. The prize, it turns out, is actually a winsome young lass named Lui Ting-Ting (Michelle Reis) with whom Fong Sai Yuk has already started a halting relationship. And so the elements of pure farce are already in place. Oh—did I mention that Miu Chui-Fa's masculine alter ego becomes the love interest of Lui Ting-Ting's unhappily married mother?
This is a film that in essence is a martial arts campfest on the order of the 1960's television version of Batman. With director Corey Yuen's penchant for tilted camera angles during the fight scenes, one almost expects a series of "Biffs!, Whams!" and "Powees!" to burst forth in animated glory. For all its patent silliness, The Legend does manage to deliver in a couple of awesome set pieces, the first of which involved Fong Sai Yuk battling Siu-Wan (Sibelle Wu), Lui Ting-Ting's mother and the woman who will soon become the erstwhile love interest of Fong Sai Yuk's disguised mother. This particular battle has a very important rule: whoever touches the ground first loses. That sets up a spectacular series of wire work and other high flying stunts, with both Li and Wu apparently dancing across the massed shoulders and heads of several of the observers, leading to a series of comic situations almost on the order of a Three Stooges melee. Though a lot of the set pieces are played purely for laughs, it's actually the superb character work of Siao that makes The Legend such a laugh riot at times. At the film's climactic battle, as she cuts through a crowd of evil henchman, laying them all low, she scowls as only a mother can and states, "You've made me very angry!" in a perfect deadpan. Earlier in the film, she and Li battle the main bad guy in an explosive array of arm blocks, leading to him batting wildly about his head as if trying to deflect an errant wasp. Siao once again looks at him like a disapproving parent and tells him, "Now you're just batting the air." It's these supremely inane moments which give The Legend so much of its comic momentum.
The film does go partially awry in trying to play a couple of deaths for pathos, moments which sit uneasily with the rest of the film's Looney Tunes cartoonish quality. Without posting a spoiler, one of these deaths has to do with the assumed identity Siao's character undertakes, and it's not only completely odd, even within the context of the film's farcical elements, it's even stranger when viewed a bit more objectively as to what it actually provides to the film as a whole. The Legend would certainly have been stronger had it been played solely for laughs. The good news is, these weird dramatic segments are few and far between and ultimately don't do too much damage to the tenor of the overall film.
There's little doubt The Legend is schtick-heavy film, but it's played with such agreeable earnestness by its cast that one forgives its sillier tendencies. It's really rather easy to give yourself over to the lunacy of this film, especially when it's mixed with such expert action sequences. Li may not indeed be the innately comic actor that Chan is, but he proves in The Legend that sometimes being the straight man is more than enough to make a film's comedy effective.
The Legend Blu-ray, Video Quality
If you've followed my reviews of other Dragon Dynasty releases, you'll know I haven't been particularly kind to them, at least those first, pretty atrocious efforts in 1080i. Unfortunately, The Legend, despite a full 1080p presentation via an AVC encode (in 1.78:1) is one of the softer, grainier outings from Dragon Dynasty since they first got the message fans weren't going to go whole-hog for less than stellar transfers. This seems particularly odd considering the film's relatively recent genesis in 1993, but perhaps better source elements for this film simply weren't available. Be that as it may, this is certainly above upconverted DVD levels, but unfortunately not by much. Colors are often wan and unimpressive, and detail, especially in midrange and far shots, is pretty murky. Close-ups fare considerably better, and some of the night shots, interestingly, fare particularly well, with good black levels and contrast. On the whole, though, this is a soft presentation which will probably not horribly offend many people, but which won't set their videophile hearts aflutter either.
The Legend Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Unfortunately, the original Cantonese track, delivered here via a standard Dolby Digital 2.0 mix, is a boxy, overly compressed affair that makes everything sound as if it was recorded in a small cardboard box, and then mic'd from miles away and recorded on a casette tape. I of course exaggerate, but really only slightly. This track has very little dynamic range, especially disappointing in the battle scenes, when the actually creative foley effects just kind of lie there rather than whipping and snapping through the soundfield. Things are not helped by a lackluster score, which sounds similarly compressed. The English 5.1 track is nominally better in terms of fidelity and openness. It unfortunately features an "Americanized" score that harkens back to 1980's disco beats, mixed with pseudo-Asian elements. In this lesser of two evils choice we're given, I recommend sticking with the original Cantonese, despite its problems.
The Legend Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Once again, a superior Commentary by Bey Logan is included. This one is perhaps a bit more stream of consciousness than some of his other, more focused, efforts on other Dragon Dynasty releases, but even less than perfect Logan is head and shoulders above most other commentaries. Other supplements (all in SD) include:
The Legend Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Anyone more familiar with the newer generation of martial arts films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon may think that these films are always portentous essays on sociopolitical movements, dramatic and often emotionally inert. The Legend proves that this genre can be that most unexpected of things: supremely funny. Even with the drawbacks of this Blu-ray release, The Legend still comes very highly recommended.
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The Legend Blu-ray, News and Updates
• August Blu-ray Wave from Vivendi - May 20, 2010
In an early announcement to retailers, it has been revealed that, on August 10, Vivendi Visual Entertainment will release four Asian films as part of its Dragon Dynasty collection: An Empress and the Warriors (Kwong saan mei yan, 2008); Invisible Target (Naam yi ...
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