The Legend of Fong Sai Yuk follows our titular hero (Jet Li) who, while pursuing a beautiful woman (Michelle Reis) and generally getting into trouble, finds himself embroiled in the conflict between the Han and the oppresive Manchurian government. As his family, including his legendary martial artist mother (Josephine Siao), also get entangled, Fong Sai Yuk and company must unleash their martial arts abilities to join the heroic rebels and repel the Manchu.
Stepping into the shoes of the fabled folk hero, Jet Li breathes comic energy and delivers gravity defying martial arts in Corey Yuen’s hugely entertaining action comedy. With a terrific supporting cast, wire heavy action, and a healthy dose of cross-dressing, Fong Sai Yuk is one of those genre defining films that characterized the 90s in Hong Kong.
Josephine Siao steals the film with her wildly energetic and comedy laden portrayal as Fong’s mother. Her action scenes are competently done and her scenes with the great Sibelle Hu yield more than a few laughs with their melodramatic overacting and intentional self reference. Vincent Zhao makes a formidable villain as a Manchu agent and his final brawl with Jet Li is the standout of the film. Utilizing the wushu background and mainland training of both of these expert martial artists, Corey Yuen directs an intricate and physically demanding scene that ranks among each of their best on film.
The action itself comes at a fast and ferocious pace with nary a span of 10 minutes going by without fisticuffs being traded. Highlights include a marriage proposal battle that features a creative spar on top of the peanut gallery and an early fight that serves as an appetizer for the final scene.
In terms of technical precision, the film features dynamic camera angles, a varied color palette, and much better than average art direction. The music is flute heavy and memorable while still being reminiscent of other films including Once Upon a Time in China and other 90’s era martial arts films. Minor gaffes include the occasional visible wire, some unconvincing prosthesis, and an underused Adam Cheng. Despite this, this film remains one of Jet’s most memorable, and indeed, one of his most fun.
You may enjoy this film if you liked: Once Upon a Time in China, Tai Chi Master, and/or Iron Monkey