Top positive review
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Utterly stunning! Superior to Crouching Tiger in many ways!
on 15 March 2002
Whilst Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon will be more familiar to audiences as possibly the most successful foreign-language movie of all time, such people may want to check out this wonderful movie from 1991.
Wong Fei-Hung was a real-life legendary Chinese hero who was not only a master of Hung Gar kung-fu but an accomplished doctor who opened his own clinic, which has been named Po Chi Lam (although sometimes it has been spelt Bo Chi Lam); the name has survived to this day. Fei-Hung has had over 100 movies made that featured someone playing him, although Hong Kong veteran Kwan Tak-Hing was more synonymous with him (he played him in Sammo Hung's MAGNIFICENT BUTCHER movie, for example).
In this movie, which spawned many sequels and a spin-off TV series that starred Chiu Man Cheuk ('The Black Sheep Affair', 'Body Weapon'), Wong Fei-Hung is played by the brilliant Jet Li ('Kiss Of The Dragon', 'Romeo Must Die'). Set in late 19th-Century China, it tells of the story of China seemingly being overrun with foreigners such as Americans and British people, complete with their foreign machines -- in particular one that would potentially jeopardise the effectiveness of kung-fu: the dreaded gun! Fei-Hung, a traditional leader with traditional views, must learn to embrace the rapidly-changing China, but can he do so without compromising his values?
This movie scores on many counts: superb acting, attention to detail and production values (for a Hong Kong movie with the comparatively limited budgets); characters develop brilliantly (a trait that follows into its sequels, particularly the relationship between Fei-Hung and 13th Aunt Peony, played by the beautiful Rosamund Kwan); some stunning camerawork and (of course!) fabulous martial artistry that, although featuring wirework, does not actually allow the fighters to actually fly like they did in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (which caused some unintentional humour for many when I saw CTHD at the cinema), plus the wire sections are cleverly interspersed with sections featuring the more-realistic ground-based kung-fu that similarly does not disappoint.
The DVD version reviewed here contains both an English dubbed version (which doesn't really work, if only because it cannot really show how Fei-Hung struggles with foreign languages as everyone seems to be speaking English) and a Cantonese-language subtitled version. Mark King (who plays General Wickens in the movie) accompanies Bey Logan for an insightful audio commentary. There are also the usual interviews and trailers.
If you liked Crouching Tiger (even if you didn't) I'm sure you'd find something to like in this. It's top-notch, and even features Jackie Chan's younger 'brother' Yuen Biao ('Eastern Condors').
Tsui Hark's direction that revitalised the then-flagging traditional kung-fu genre (as well as Li's career) remains a classic. Check it out!