Director: Corey Yuen
This early 1990s film saw Jet Li take the lead role in the retelling of the popular folk tale/legend of the character Fong Sai Yuk. Like the story of Wong Fei Hung (told in the Once Upon a Time in China series) Sai Yuk is a Cantonese martial arts hero (sort of kung fu Robin Hood) whose skill was unparalleled. Immortalised in a series of movies, this film has to be one of the very best efforts (to be fair I've not seen any of the others).
In this version Li plays the happy go lucky Fong Sai Yuk who deliberately loses a martial arts contest when he mistakenly believes that the prize is the hand in marriage of the ugly daughter of a rich merchant. Enraged by the loss his mother (played excellently by Josephine Siao), disguised as a man, wins the competition not knowing she has to now marry the daughter, and also at the same time winning the love of the rich man's wife (yes, very complex I know). To further complicate things this is merely the character driven plot, which sits alongside the background events of the rebellion of the Red Flower Society against the new Manchu emperor.
Basically Fong Sai Yuk's dad and the family of the rich man who held the contest get all mixed up in the plot of the Red Flower society and become wanted criminals. Sai Yuk's dad holds a document with the names of the societies agents and the agents of the emperor are sent after them all. This rather predictably ends up with a huge set piece battle at the end where Jet Li gets to save his father from execution and prevent the destruction of the Red Flower society.
Ok so what I have described is a plot so convoluted and full of holes that it would not get past a 1st treatment in Hollywood. However there are several reasons why this films rocks so much and comes with a high recommendation from me.
The action - Jet Li and Josephine Siao both excel in this department, but at the same time deliver a really touching performance of mother and son. The actual fighting ability of Jet Li is backed up by superb action choreography and direction. These both won awards for the Yuen Kwei and Yuen Tak (part of the '7 little fortunes' (see other reviews)) both some of the finest martial arts directors about (at least as good as Yuen Woo Ping in my book). The early fight in the kung fu contest and another fight in the cloth dying factory are both perfect examples of their masterful choreography and camera work. There is also some good weapons fighting with liberal use of swords (the Chinese Gim) and staffs.
The acting is also strikingly fresh and genuine with the decidedly young
looking Jet Li turning in a really good performance. The film like so
many of Wong Jing's borders on the realms of fantasy, although the plot
is outlandish it never strays too far into the ridiculous. This film is
well worth seeing and is an important part of any self respecting Jet
Li collection. For those of you who might have seen Lethal Weapon 4 and
Romeo Must Die and wandered what all the fuss was about this is essential
viewing (as is Once Upon a Time in China I & II, Fist of Legend and
Tai Chi Master).