Things get heavy
This film was one of the last done by Jet Li before he left to chase
big bucks in Hollywood. It is also one of the last of his period piece
'wuxia' films that he would do in Hong Kong, similar to his other works
like Fong Sai Yuk, Swordsman
2, and Kung Fu Cult Master. Like Kung Fu Cult Master and Last Hero
in China, New Legend of Shaolin is also directed by Wong Jing,
and his influence is clearly seen in the plot of this movie. Ok ok ok,
so sometimes I complain that HK movies have a plot that could be written
down on the back of a beer mat. This causes me a bit of a problem when
a film comes along that and tramples all over that contention.
On the way they find themselves fighting to protect a group of Shaolin
kids that have the map to a big Shaolin treasure tattooed on their backs
(could no one find a photocopier?), who escape the temple before it is
destroyed by the Manchurians. Jet and the pudgy spearsboy (I love that
description) become the bodyguards of a rich businessman. At the same
time there is Chingmy Yau and Deanie Yip Tak Han, playing a corpse (no
seriously!) as a pair of thieves. Anyway all of these characters end up
in the same household together, and things really start to kick off when
the Manchu forces turn up and start looking for the tattooed Shaolin kids.
Not too confusing you might think, however the director Wong Jing throws in a veritable smorgasbord of other ideas. The bad guys are led by an evil eunuch (what is it with period Kung Fu films and this obsession with eunuchs). Jet's main opponent is his traitorous friend (Gai Chun Wa) that he defeats in the 1st scene of the movie. This guy is left for dead but is treated by evil monks, to come back as a 'Poisonous man' (something clearly lost in the translation of the Cantonese), an invincible man/monster. This idea dies not seem too dumb, but what you get is a guy that looks like he has been covered in poo and literally travels around in a sort of 'armoured car' (for want of a better description).
The film unfortunately is all over the place with a mixture of comedy, romance, action, an attempt at horror and various monster effects. Luckily this does not make this a bad film, merely quite a difficult one to watch, I will now try to explain why it is actually quite an all right movie.
Worst haircut ever?
There had to be something in this film to make it worth reviewing for this site and there definitely is. Once again like so many other films I have to come back to the action which is really really good. Corey Yuen the action director earns his money and sets up some really good fight scenes. Jet Li's Shaolin spear technique is amazing, possibly even rivaling his use of the weapon in Once Upon a Time in China 2. The support from the 'pudgy spearsboy' and all of the Shaolin kids is excellent as well, definitely ones to watch for the future. Chingmy Yau and her mother are really good as well, drawing out of Jet some interesting moments of characterization. The film also 'borrows' quite liberally from other movies, most notably from 'Shogun Assassin' where the infant 'pudgy spearsboy' is asked to choose between the sword and the toy horse, to choose life or death.
In conclusion I would say that this film is worth watching. Other reviewers
of this film tend to either love or hate this film, I must admit I am
a bit torn as well. While the action is done well with great spear fighting
there is too much being crammed into this film. This film is a capable
offering, an 'all right' period Kung Fu movie, but Tai Chi Master is a
Important Note: This film has just been released as Legend of the Red Dragon in the US. This is a poorly dubbed and cut version - HKC recommends the New Legend of Shaolin for Hong Kong movie fans - Paul