It's been a while since Wai-Keung Lau released a
crowd-pleaser with Western potential. His Infernal Affairs trilogy made a
big impact, yet after these films he somehow slipped back into HK
anonymity. Those of you expecting a new gangster epic should take
notice, Wai-Keung Lau is a diverse little devil who handles many
different genres. His latest is a true Donnie Yen (14 Blades
) action fest set in mid-20th century Shanghai. Talk about a change of scenery.
I've been seeing quite some Wai-Keung Lau films these last couple of
weeks and while most of them are not good enough to warrant a review on
this blog, his full body of work is proof of his diversity and ability
to learn from mistakes. Earlier - often failed - experiments usually pay
off in later films, The Legend of Chen Zhen isn't any different.
Compare the martial arts in this film to Lau's The Duel and you'll see
what I mean.
Of course Lau can count on Donnie Yen to do most of the dirty work
here, though I'm sure Yen didn't have to think twice before taking on
the role of Chen Zhen. A fictional character that started his movie
career being portrayed by Bruce Lee (Fist Of Fury). Later Jet Li would
follow in his footsteps (Fist of Legend), now it's Yen's turn to be
immortalized as one of Hong Kong's biggest fictional heroes. Not a bad
reference to put on your resume.
While the tales of Chen Zhen don't follow a fixed pattern, they usually
end up with a clash between Zhen and the Japanese oppressor. Lau's
version isn't any different as the Japanese military is the obvious bad
guy in this tale of revenge and rebellion. Yen is the absolute hero of
the film, battling his way to hordes of adversaries, though he is by no
means infallible. On the other hand, Yen seems to have some extreme
athletic capabilities giving him a good edge on the competition.
Visually there is plenty to enjoy here. There's no doubt the budget was
pretty high for HK standards, Lau makes perfect use of all the
possibilities this creates. Some superb set pieces, lush decorations and
strong and agile camera work bring the Shanghai of last century to
life. The action scenes are impressive (though there's a little speed up
noticeable in some shots) while the color corrections lend the film
lots of extra atmosphere. Good stuff.
The soundtrack is decent with some traditional music and a couple of
performance songs. It seems you really can't do a Shanghai flick without
them. Nothing too great or special but since this is basically an
action flick it suffices. Acting is overall strong though with Yen
kicking ass, good supporting roles for Wong and Qi and some nice cameos
(Shawn Yue). Of course Hong Kong has a pretty large pool of quality
actors and Lau has no trouble hooking them for his films.
Lau's latest bears a lot of influences. The Shanghai setting reminds me of Tan's Blood Brother, the rebellion aspect of Bodyguards and Assassins
and Yen's heroic costume looks like its stolen from Lee's Black Mask.
But these are just minor details as the film never pretends to be
anything more than a heroic action flick. The middle part is a little
overblown and long-winding, but apart from that there's little doubt
about Lau's intentions.
People hoping for a tight blend of all the different aspects on display
won't be fully satisfied. Lau plays all these influences as if they
were mere decorations as he keeps returning to the core of his film:
Donnie Yen kicking some Japanese ass. Luckily the action scenes are
strong enough so it doesn't become bothersome, but make sure you don't
go in with the wrong expectations. There's no remarkable drama, good
storytelling or moody crime ethics going on, it's really all about the
The Legend Of Chen Zhen is a slick action flick that does his fictional
hero justice. I wasn't a big fan of the previous installments but Lau
replaces the more bitter atmosphere with a lighter, faster and more
kick-ass martial arts injection. Great production values, some slick
action scenes and a nice cast turn this film into an enjoyable little
blockbuster, which can be refreshing in itself from time to time.
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