Fans of classic Hong Kong martial arts movies should know the name of Wong Fei Hung, a real-life populist folk hero played on the big screen by the likes of Jet Li and Jackie Chan. Eddie Peng now takes on the role for “Rise of the Legend,” a stylish, rousing throwback epic, telling the fictionalized story of Wong as a young man, circa 1868.
Veteran HK action stud Sammo Hung co-stars as Lei Gong, thuggish leader of the Black Tigers, who recruits the talented Wong to help him wipe out the rival Northern Sea gang. He soon finds that his new protege has his own agenda, forged in a childhood tragedy.
“Rise of the Legend” stays true to the spirit of the likes of “Once Upon a Time in China,” emphasizing the noble Wong’s resistance to being pushed around by crooks and cultural interlopers. Director Roy Chow (billed as Chow Hin Yeung) uses digital effects sparingly but potently, dropping in moments designed to make audiences gasp.
Like the recent run of films about legendary fighter/teacher Ip Man, “Rise of the Legend” mixes historical drama with frenetic action sequences, turning a real person’s life into the stuff of a Saturday matinee. Those looking to learn more about Wong are in the wrong place. Those looking for a slick slugfest with memorable characters will be well satisfied.
“Rise of the Legend”
No rating. In Mandarin and Cantonese with English subtitles.
Running time: 2 hours, 11 minutes.
Playing: Arena Cinema, Hollywood.