An HBO Asia original movie take on the classic story of the legendary real-life Hung Gar Master, Wong Kei-ying! Starring Sun Hao-ran, Yang Liao, Jiang Ming Yang, Chen Zhi Hui, and directed by Jian Yong Guo.
Real life Chinese martial arts coach Sun Hao-ran stars as “Wong Kei-Ying”, the father of the legendary martial arts master Wong Fei-Hung. Actress Yang Liao appears in the classic supporting role of “13th Aunt”.
Chen Zhi Hui, who also appeared in HBO Asia’s “Master of the Drunken Fist”, here plays “General Wei Mo-Gik”. He is best known to Western audiences for his roles as Master Chin in Jet Li’s “Fearless” and Master Liu in Donnie Yen‘s “Ip Man”. Mainland actor Jiang Ming Yang plays “Hong Sum”, a henchman at the Ma Gang Opium Den.
Zhou Xiaofei is a martial arts actress and stunt performer best known for her work in Legendary Amazons, “The Grandmaster” and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny”. Here she plays the very capable fighter “Lam Fong-Sin”, a member of the Ma Gang.
Chinese television character actor Xie Ning plays “Ma Mo”, leader of the Ma Gang. Looking like a cross between a Bond villain and henchman, this opium smoking pimp version of Odd Job from Goldfinger even has a cat to stroke on his knee!
Yu Yan-Kai stars as Kei-ying’s teacher “Lok Ah Choi”. He will be familiar to martial arts movie fans from his roles in Jet Li’s “Fong Sai Yuk” I & II, “Tai Chi Master”, Sammo Hung’s “Blade of Fury”, and more recently, “Jackie Chan’s Police Story 2013: Lockdown”.
In the late Qing dynasty, it is a turbulent time for China. Foreign powers are drawing up unfair treaties and perpetuating the opium trade. A quiet and honest physician, Wong Kei-Ying focuses on his medical ethics and saving lives, avoiding any politics. He is also the proud and loving father of a young son, Wong Fei-hung.
The new governor of Canton, the ruthless and treacherous General Wei, fools Wong into helping him fight a local opium gang. In reality, Wei just wants to control the local opium business to keep all the profit for himself. Wei captures and tortures Wong’s mentor and teacher, Master Lok. When Wong Kei-ying discovers the truth, he must learn to master the Shadowless Kick if he is to protect his son, and thwart the wicked General’s plans.
The action gets off to a bright start early on when Wong Kei-ying’s teacher, Master Lok, is attacked by ninja-like assassins led by a mysterious man in a traditional Chinese opera mask. Modern style wires and some old-fashioned blood spatter flesh out some nice traditional kung fu fighting.
A mass brawl in the rain with swords follows, but there is little innovation or style here and lots of spraying theatrical blood everywhere.
The tomboyish henchwoman Lam Fong-Sin takes on the balding and scarred villain Hong Sum in a brief but nice duel, establishing their accomplished high-kicking skills.
When a caravan containing the lead characters travels through a bamboo forest in a Chinese film, you can guarantee it will be ambushed. General Wei Mo-Gik and Wong Kei-ying are unarmed but fight impressively against the sword-wielding bandits. Proving he can also handle weapons, Wong Kei-ying fights off a night time attempt on his life by Fong-Sin and Hong Sum with the long pole. Again, it is a short but sweet fight.
With instructions from his mentor, Master Lok, Wong Kei-ying learns the powerful Shadowless Kick to add to his Southern Shaolin skills. Kei-ying requires his entire arsenal of techniques for the finale, where he must take on three fighters whilst his son is held hostage.
First up is a Sanda/Muay Thai-style fighter, who fires off lots of bone-crunching kicks, knees and elbow strikes. Next is a European style sword fencer whose rapier slashes are seemingly impossible to bypass. Wong Kei-ying, in possibly his most acrobatic scene, counters with impressive combinations of whirlwind kicks and sweeps.
His final opponent is the evil, opera mask-wearing villain. Going hand-to-hand, there are some impressive southern fist skills as he takes the fight to Wong Kei-ying in a thrilling showdown.
Yuen Woo-ping’s “Iron Monkey” featured the story of Wong Kei-ying (played by Donnie Yen) and his young son, Wong Fei-hung. However, this version has more in common with “Once Upon a Time in China” than that classic. There is even a repeat of the 13th Aunt dynamic.
Whilst “Master of the Drunken Fist: Beggar So” felt and looked more cinematic, it suffered from rather over-serious and melodramatic storytelling. Although this movie shares the same production team and director, it feels much more like a “made-for-TV” film. Having said that, I found the story and the acting much more accessible, and as a result, more enjoyable than the first film.
The choreography is adequate, and it is actually the fight scenes with Zhou Xiaofei that were the best parts for me. Sun Hao-Ran is okay in the lead, but cannot compete with Donnie Yen’s performance in Iron Monkey, or even Jet Li’s performance in Once Upon a Time in China, with which this shares many similarities. Chen Zhi Hui continues to add to his CV of fine character roles and makes for a good villain though.
HBO Asia have made two admirable versions of popular martial arts tales. It was a courageous thing to do considering the many successful films with the same subject matter that have come before. I hope HBO Asia make further films in a similar vein but perhaps with greater consideration to the potential international audience. These were very obviously aimed at mainland Chinese viewers. With a little tweaking, HBO Asia could become THE place to go to satisfy your appetite for classic martial arts action!
- Wong Kei-ying was a real-life martial arts master and physician who lived from 1815-1886. He was a member of folk heroes; Ten Tigers of Canton.
- Master Lok is based on a real Hung Gar Master. Lok was also said to be a student of the Reverend Jee-sin, one of the legendary Five Elders who survived the destruction of the Shaolin Monastery by the Qing government in the 17th or 18th
- Director Jian Yong Guo has had a long association with the legendary action choreographer, Corey Yuen, and has previously worked on The Transporter movies, “Kiss of the Dragon”, “The One”, “DOA: Dead or Alive”, “War”, “Red Cliff”, “Cradle to the Grave” and “The Man with the Iron Fists”.