Rise of the Legend (Roy Chow, 2014)

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Every generation gets the Wong Fei-hung they deserve. A fin-de-siècle doctor and martial arts instructor, the real life Wong has been inspiring cinematic incarnations for most of the history of Hong Kong’s film industry. The first was in a series of productions running form the late 1940s to the mid 1960s, where Wong was played by Kwan Tak-hing as the embodiment of Confucian masculine values. Dignified, somewhat aged, even-handed and scrupulous, Kwan played Wong in an astounding 77 films (at least), between 1949’s The True Story of Wong Fei-hung: Whiplash Snuffs the Candle Flame and 1981’s Dreadnaught, which is some kind of a record. A generation of actors and stuntmen, choreographers and directors (most notably Lau Kar-leung and Yuen Woo-ping) got their starts training on the Wong Fei-hung films, which served roughly the same role for Hong Kong action cinema that Roger Corman’s exploitation films did for the New Hollywood. Lau Kar-leung put his twist on the character with Gordon Liu starring as a young student Wong in Challenge of the Masters in 1976 and as a somewhat older man striving after nonviolent resolutions to the deadly rivalries of the kung fu world in 1981’s Martial Club. Yuen Woo-ping and his father Yuen Siu-tien, who also worked on the Kwan Tak-hing series, upended the Wong Fei-hung mythos in 1978 with Drunken Master, in which a young Jackie Chan plays Wong as an impetuous, vulgar, undisciplined youth who is beaten into shape by the eponymous instructor (the elder Yuen), kicking of an era of irreverent kung fu comedy hybrids and launching Chan as a superstar. Tsui Hark revising the legend again in 1991 with his Once Upon a Time in China series, in which Jet Li played the hero with a mix of Kwan’s grace and nobility,  Chan’s youthfulness and Li’s own awkward romanticism. Now, Roy Chow gives us Rise of the Legend, with Eddie Peng playing Wong as a brooding, blood-spattered young warrior, desperately fighting against the nihilistic hell that is Guangzhou’s Pearl River Delta in the late 19th Century.

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Ip Man 3 (Wilson Yip, 2015) and Monster Hunt (Raman Hui, 2015)

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The disaporic film program at the AMC Pacific Place this week features two of the hottest Chinese-language films of the past year: the latest in Donnie Yen’s series about Wing Chun Master Ip Man and the CGI monster-wuxia that took the Chinese box office by storm last summer, breaking records on its way to becoming the highest-grossing local film in the Mainland’s history. The two films represent state of the art variations on the two oldest forms of the Chinese martial arts film, kung fu and wuxia tricked out with digital manipulations and effects, packed with enough celebrity cameos and show-stopping stunts to make even the most generic or implausible story a lot of fun.

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Kung Fu Jungle (Teddy Chan, 2014)

kfj-pics-1The latest acclaimed Hong Kong film to sneak onto Seattle Screens at the AMC Pacific Place (following Johnnie To’s Don’t Go Breaking My Heart 2 and Tsui Hark’s The Taking of Tiger Mountain, among other recent hits) is a new collaboration between director Teddy Chan and star/choreographer Donnie Yen. The two were previously paired in Chan’s 2009 period adventure film about Sun Yat-sen, Bodyguards and Assassins, but this new film is more in line with Yen’s present-day cop films SPL and Flash Point, both made with director Wilson Yip. Yen plays a kung fu expert serving a prison sentence for accidentally killing a man in a duel. Three years into his term, the cops are on the hunt for a serial killer, one who appears to be targeting kung fu experts. Donnie volunteers his services to track down the killer, but of course he knows more than he’s letting on. As with the Yip films, the action is brutally physical, aided in no small measure by CGI special effects, the impact of which is still working its way uneasily through the language of Hong Kong action cinema.

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12 Golden Ducks (Matt Chow, 2015)

16373802198_ccb18997c2_b  As one Matt Chow movie leaves AMC’s Pacific Place this Thursday, another one opens on Friday, as his collaboration with director Wilson Yip Triumph in the Skies leaves Seattle screens and is replaced by 12 Golden Ducks (both films were released on February 19th in China, part of the Lunar New Year festivities that are the peak of the Chinese movie-going season, like if the US crammed all their releases between Memorial Day and Independence Day into one single week). I haven’t had a chance to see it yet, because it’s so new and because it’s playing as part of AMC’s Asian-Pacific Film program, which doesn’t ever seem to advertise or screen anything for mainstream audiences or critics (this has been the case with several releases in recent months, including major films such as Johnnie To’s Don’t Go Breaking My Heart 2 and Pang Ho-chung’s Women Who Know How to Flirt are the Luckiest and (more or less) Tsui Hark’s The Taking of Tiger Mountain). Given the lack of attention the release of 12 Golden Ducks is likely to receive, we hope this preview post will be somewhat helpful, absent an actual review.

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