The Ching (Qing) Dynasty (1644-1912) has taken power from the Mings (1368 -1644), but there are still rebel elements around China that are attempting to return the Mings to the throne. Jet Li is one of these rebels and in the opening scene he returns to his home to find that everyone except his son has been massacred by the government troops. Knowing that he will be a fugitive on the run, Jet takes a page from Lone Wolf and gives his son a test. If the infant reaches for the toy – he dies – if he reaches for the sword - Jet will take him along on his travels.
Outside waiting for Jet and his son is a former friend - turned traitor - and nearly 20 ninjas. In a great action piece Jet kills all the ninjas and leaves the traitor for dead. Jet is a master of the spear in this film and throughout the movie he performs some amazing moves with it.
Jet is at his intense best here – never smiling
until the last frame and thankfully staying far away from the comedic bits–
and the choreography is just great fun to watch. If Wong Jing could have
cut back a little on the corny comedy it just would have made the film
much better, but the inspired parts more than make up for having to sit
through the sillier bits.
My rating for this film: 8.0
This production starts off with a devastatingly
realistic looking scene of the hero, Hung Shi-Kwan (played by Jet Li),
coming across the dead bodies of people he holds dear. In the ruins
of his home, he looks for
his infant son and seriously contemplates killing him so that he can join his deceased mother. The kung fu master's decision not to do so is less influenced by love but by the certainty that the son (played for the bulk of the film by the amazing Tze Mui) has his priorities right for a harsh world. At this juncture, the tone of the film is grave and the emphasis seems to be on depicting some moving moments.
While a solemn Jet Li and earnest Tze Mui combo can make for a seriously good dramatic as well as action movie (witness "My Father is a Hero"; directed by Corey Yuen Kwai, who was this film's action director as well as the director of such "classics" as "Yes, Madam!" and "Fong Sai Yuk"), I must say that I initially welcomed the comic relief that was injected into this production by the appearance of Chingmy Yau and -- albeit to a lesser extent -- Deannie Yip as a daughter-mother pair of flimflammers. To be sure: There definitely were some amusing sequences involving these two comic actresses (I particularly liked the clothes-making fight between Yau and Li; and Yip interacted well with Tze and the five other children who have significant screen time in this movie).
Before too long though, the farcical sequences were undermining the dramatic portions of the film seriously. Worse was to come in the form of the destruction of any credibility with regards to the fight scenes with the appearance of what honestly looked like a shielded, shiny metal CAR (that might not have looked out of place in a futuristic fantasy movie like "Saviour of the Soul" or "The Heroic Trio") along with "no shadow" kicks and other wire-fu staples. When Wong Jing ends the movie by appearing as -- ha, ha...not! -- Wong Fei Hu, I wished that someone had made his cameo more memorable by kicking his butt and sending him flying (or worse).
In closing, it is hard for a film that stars Jet Li, Tze Mui and Chingmy Yau to not entertain at some level. I just wish that Wong Jing had put the talents that he had at his disposal here to greater use (the way this prolific moviemaker did with, say, "High Risk", whose cast included Li and Yau along with Jacky Cheung and Charlie Yeung).
Rating for the film: 6.