After seeing WOLF-WARRIOR-II-mania sweep the globe (especially in the China part of it) I thought I should pay a little more attention to Wu Jing as an up and coming Badass Laureate (director/asskicker), so I went back to LEGENDARY ASSASSIN, his directational debut (co-directed with KILL ZONE 2 action director Chung Chi “Nicky” Li, who also choreographed).
Though there will later be lulls, it’s clear the movie is worth our time within the first 22 minutes or so, because by that time we’ve already experienced two excellent fights and the unveiling of a nice, elegant premise (the screenplay is by Fung Chi-Keung, who wrote SHAOLIN SOCCER and THE MERMAID). Wu plays “Bo,” the assassin of the title, so presumably he’s legendary, although this is not really covered in the movie. He fearlessly walks in to face Chairman Ma (Kou Zhan Wen, TAI CHI II), an evil crime boss who comes at him Shaw Brothers style with a big bladed staff. Bo does lots of leaning and dodging and running up things and defeats him unarmed.
In the morning we see Bo walking up to a dock to make his exit… just as a police officer is turning people away. All boats are cancelled due to an approaching typhoon. And the last boat in unloads a troupe of gangsters looking for the killer of Chairman Ma.
Whoops. This could get messy.
Through a series of events too silly to mention (okay, he catches her when she falls out of a tree trying to save a cat and she rips his coat but loans him her sewing kit) he ends up having lunch with a beautiful local cop Hiu Wor (introducing the very likable Celina Jade, later in WOLF WARRIOR II, but here she gets to fight) at the one soup stand that stays open during typhoons. By coincidence (and limited lunch options) there are also three dudes there who unmistakably fit the description of armed robbers also stranded on the island. One is about the size of Andre the Giant, and he casually lifts Hiu by the neck when she tries to question them.
Bo gets that classic badass hesitation – The Moment of Not Wanting to Get Involved. Probly not out of fear of these guys, but out of not wanting to get further connected with this police officer and then get caught for what he did. You know, one of those awkward social situations you get into. But of course he’s honorable so he gets up and there’s an excellent fight with him jumping off of tables, giant hands grabbing his head, his new police friend getting literally tossed around.
As he feared he ends up going back to the station with her. The biggest problem with that is that he’s carrying with him a bag heavy with what he says is a bowling ball. We don’t know what it is but we do know the Chairman’s widow Miho Sasaki (Noriko Aoyama, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2: TOKYO NIGHT) has sent her guys (including Lam Suet [VENGEANCE] as “Fat Wing”) to find her husband’s missing head. Hmm.
The middle section where they’re under siege in the police station does drag a little. There’s some too-wacky comedy with another officer jealous of the attention Hiu gives to Bo, and it does get more melodramatic than some would like. But there’s a bunch of excitement with Bo having to sneak around and help people in fights without being seen, and it pretty effectively messed with me, making me wonder whether I really should be rooting for this murderer who’s lying to this cop. It’s one of those romances where everything seems great but one of them is carrying around a big secret. In this case the big secret he’s carrying around is that he’s carrying around a severed head. There’s some suspense about how she’ll find out and how she’ll react.
Also, the MATRIX REVOLUTION-esque climactic showdown has some of that glorious Wu Jing over-the-topness, easily making up for any previous slow bits. The score by Raymond Wong (RUNNING OUT OF TIME, KUNG FU HUSTLE) gets all majestic on that ass as Bo walks through the typhoon rain between around 100 identically dressed henchmen standing in two perfect rows. Then they all attack at the same time and he beats them back with spinning kicks, then backfists, pushing, dropkicking, disabling enough of them to be able to run up a wall and jump around different levels, knocking them down as they come after him. By the end of the fight the music has turned tragic and Hiu, who is tied up like a sacrificial virgin, screams and cries for him. It sounds like the end of TITANIC or something but it’s really the end of a fight where one guy beats up a hundred people.
The scene is also notable for the fact that all of the fighters are wearing all dark clothes, but Bo has white sneakers. To direct your eyes to his feet. And somehow they don’t get muddy.
It took a few movies for Wu to grow on me, but he’s a great fighter with distinct kicks and a unique persona. It’s kind of shy and introverted so he comes across as humble, yet he portrays himself as a little too awesome. I like the contradiction. I look forward to him directing more movies, and I hope he keeps bringing Jade with him.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.