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.
Cheung Man
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.