Last Hero in China
Yes, this is the film where Jet Li dresses up
as a rooster (or is it a chicken?). I don’t know who felt more embarrassed
- Jet or me. Here Jet Li takes another go at portraying the same character
that he played in the earlier Once Upon a Time in China series – Wong Fei-hong.
This version though is directed by Wong Jing and it becomes evident fairly
quickly that this film is much more Wong Jing than Jet Li.
Much of the film is played for light entertainment
and large stretches go by in which Jet goes on a coffee break and the other
characters take over. The action (choreographed by Yuen Wo-Ping -Wing Chun/Matrix)
though not abundant is very imaginative and fun to watch with a heavy reliance
on wires. The comedic bits were not terrible by any means – some
of it was amusing – but not really what I want out of a Jet Li film.
The film begins with Jet Li at the Canton train
station waiting for Auntie Yee to arrive. He receives a note sent from
her explaining that she has had to go elsewhere (so no Rosamund Kwan for
this film), but three members of the Boxer Association, on the run from
the police, take Jet as a hostage. Need I say that this was a poor decision
on their part? In a nice little action scene Jet effortlessly disarms them
while carrying flowers in one hand and a baby in the other.
Much of the next fifty minutes is Wong Jing time
with Jet moving his school inadvertently next to a brothel run by Natalis
Chan. One of Natalis’s relatives is Anita Yuen and in a funny scene she
and one of her colleagues try to seduce Jet. Even a musical number is thrown
into the pot.
Another plot thread begins with the appearance
of Cheung Man and her father. They are looking for her sister who has been
kidnapped. Their investigation has led them to a temple where it turns
out that the monks are in cahoots with the authorities (who are secretly
Boxers as well) to sell many girls into slavery to south Asia.
Finally, Jet is drawn into stopping this conspiracy
and while trying to rescue Anita has a wonderful kung-fu duel with the
great Gordon Liu that takes place on, over and under a wooden plank bridge.
Later, Jet Li enters into a Lion Dance festival.
I have to admit to having a weakness for these ornately costumed and beautifully
choreographed dances. You can’t go wrong with them as far as I am concerned
and especially with Jet Li doing the honors. The main bad guy and his crew
show up to do battle with Jet. He comes outfitted as a centipede with a
flame-thrower and Jet is unable to figure out how to beat it and loses
the competition. Later he sees a rooster killing a centipede and regrettably
decides to come back to the competition dressed as a rooster – beak, claws
and all. Actually, the last fight is terrific as Jet goes from kung-fu
rooster to drunken master.
This is a difficult film to judge. It certainly
has some good action sequences, some decent comedy – but I would not say
it is really a good Jet Li film – if that makes any sense. In many ways
it is more of an ensemble piece with a lot of the actors getting time.
This of course means that Jet gets less time. Take that as you may.
My rating for this film: 7.0
NB – the Boxers often play a prominent role
in HK films that take place in this historical period – end of the 19th
century – and are often portrayed as villains. It depends on your point
of view if this was really the case. Here are a few links on the Internet
with some information on them.