Legend of a Fighter Review
Like the other Seasonal Films classic titles available on the Hong Kong Legends label (Drunken Master and Snake in the Eagles Shadow) the rare classic Legend of a Fighter is directed and produced by the formidable double-team of Yuen Woo-Ping and Ng See Yuen but there are several key differences to the aforementioned wildly popular titles. The obvious comes in the form of the lead actor, where instead of Jackie Chan we find one of the many 70s Hong Kong actors who literally took up the profession because of Bruce Lee, the wonderful Leung Kar Yan. Along with the loss of Jackie Chan we also find that Legend of a Fighter is played far more straight than most Hong Kong movies of this era. Sure the occasional traditional joke is in there (the stereotypical 'queer' Chinese traitor, and the Bucktoothed member of the fighting school for example) and we even find an entire comedic sequence involving a Westerner but for the most part this film, and more importantly the fighting styles adopted throughout, have a far more serious tone.
The reason for why is probably best explained with a brief summary of the plot. Like the Bruce Lee classic Fist of Fury before it, Legend of a Fighter focuses around the legendary Chinese hero Fok Yun Gap (known as Huo Yuan Chia in Fist of Fury) - the man who dispelled the Chinese 'Sick Man of Asia' image the Japanese so firmly believed in at the time this film is set. Taking elements of Snake in the Eagles Shadow and fusing them with that of Fist of Fury the take presented here on Fok Yun Gap sees him begin life as a mere shadow of his later self. Reprimanded for being the weak son by his father (a martial arts expert) Yun Gap is refused to be taught the Martial Arts of his family but is instead taken under the wing of his Japanese school tutor, Chiang Ho San, who secretly trains him. Later Fok Yun Gap reveals his accomplishments to his ageing father and becomes the representative for his families martial arts school which leads to him becoming known as the finest Martial Arts master in China. Once the Japanese get wind of this they deploy their finest fighter to crush this Chinese threat in what is a cruel twist of fate for Fok Yun Gap.
The story will certainly be familiar to any fan of the genre but what allows Legend of a Fighter to rise above the competition is the fine cast and superiority of Woo-Pings direction and choreography. When we first meet Fok Yun Gap he is a young man portrayed by the appropriately scrawny looking Yuen Yat Chor who brings a more cheeky and comedic tone to the opening 30-minutes of the film and the Yun Gap character. For the remainder of the film, when Yun Gap is a martial arts master and 12-years older he is portrayed by Leung Kar Yan who not only looks the part but is also quite gifted when it comes to performing Woo-Pings complex but fluid choreography. Speaking of which the choreography really is a joy to watch. Rooted firmly in the 'old school' camp of martial arts choreography what you will see on screen is somewhere between the immediacy and power that Bruce Lee brings to the screen in Fist of Fury and the wonderfully rhythmic and stylistic motions that we see Jackie perform in Snake in the Eagles Shadow. What is particularly enjoyable to see are the occasional Bruce Lee expressions that develop on Leung Kar Yan's face, in particular the moment when he beats Sanaka, a scene that will surely put a smile on any Martial Arts movie fans face!
Other cast members who are most worthy of a mention include the impressive Yasuaki Kurata who, as Yun Gap's mentor gets to display his ability while Phillip Ko Fei as Yun Gap's father, another Martial Arts Master in the film, is also highly impressive for his age. It is here though that the praise diminishes as some faults come screeching into view. Some are common problems with many Hong Kong movies even to this day, for instance the Western actors used are poor and while this is mostly forgivable by a Hong Kong movie veteran what I still shudder at on repeat viewings is the choice for the Russian Boxer. The old adage that they literally pull some westerner off the streets is all the more apparent with this casting choice as this so-called professional boxer is about as believable as my little finger would be in the same role! The plot too caused some minor annoyances, firstly it is typically shallow even for a film based on a Chinese legend, but it had one particular irritation that repeated itself constantly when Yun Gap is a young man whereby his father and master of the Martial Arts School would not only refuse to teach his 'weakest' son but seemingly showed no interest in developing his stronger offspring into future replacements. Instead he just constantly puts on a display of his interesting style while his sons look on which to myself was an all too noticeable plot device that is obviously only in place so that Yun Gap can instantly become the successor to his fathers throne when he masters his training.
The irritations noted really are all too common in Hong Kong movies of the late seventies, early eighties and in all honesty they never usually bother me but with Legend of a Fighter what I have mentioned above did. I do however want to make clear that these faults never hinder the film terribly, I just found myself either laughing (in the case of the Russian Boxer) or questioning the onscreen action (the fathers decision to train only himself) for a few minutes, but enjoyed the remainder of the film thanks to the strong lead performance and wonderful choreography on display. Although the less said about Leung Kar Yan's Riverdance trial at the end the better!
This Hong Kong Legends release is Region 0 (All-regions).
This is the third (and final) intentionally cropped release from Hong Kong Legends. Following on from 'Snake in the Eagles Shadow' and 'Drunken Master' this film has been cropped from its original 2:35:1 aspect ratio to a more widescreen TV friendly (but not fan friendly!) 1:78:1 aspect ratio. What this means is that in general the action presented onscreen feels a lot more cramped as the original composition of the shots has been lost, but in the worst cases characters body parts are completely missing from the frame! Fortunately the cropping never really detracts from the action sequences so I think we can let this slide with a quick slap on the wrist but only because HKL have changed their ways since.
Presented in anamorphic widescreen the picture quality on offer is pretty good for a film of this vintage and general obscurity. The print does have the occasional scratch marks and even the occasional glimpse of a tear but in general the print is actually quite clean keeping grain to a minimum while colours are at times surprisingly vivid. Where this disc really suffers is in the extremely varied detail levels where at times close ups can be extremely well defined but due to an overall softness long shots and backgrounds are sometimes terribly devoid of detail that is all but lost in a blur. I have to say that in spite of these problems the image presented here is still very watchable and this film should not be passed up because of them.
HKL have provided us with both the original Mandarin Dub and an optional English Dub, both of which are presented in remastered Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo format. Both tracks are of a reasonable quality, dialogue is clear while the music can sometimes be a little overpowering. The only noticeable problem was that both tracks feature an audible hiss in completely silent parts of the film (which is not very often), this was however far more noticeable on the English dub. For any fan the choice of soundtrack is obvious (the original Mandarin language dub with the well presented English subtitles) but for all other viewers I urge you not to even consider the English dub as it is a prime example of what makes a bad dub. That is of course poorly selected voice actors, and worst of all an over abundance of foul language that simply is not suited to this film.
An entirely useless Photo Gallery kicks off the proceedings and is swiftly followed by both the Original Theatrical Trailer (containing some deleted footage) and HKL own Promotional Trailer, of which both are presented in Anamorphic Widescreen. Preceding the Original Theatrical Trailer is an informative menu screen that details the cut footage you will find within, and while this lost footage makes for interesting viewing it is the Trailers 2:35:1 Aspect Ratio that is most revealing considering the cropped nature of the main presentation.
On to the more substantial extras provided we have Animated Biographies for both Yuen Woo-Ping (as seen on other Woo-Ping HKL DVDs) and the lead actor, Leung Kar Yan. Both run for around 10 minutes providing us with a reasonably in-depth look at their lives both before and after Legend of a Fighter. The final extras present are two interviews, the first of these features Yuen Woo-Ping (and again, this has been seen on other Woo-Ping HKL DVDs) wherein he mainly talks about his early Hong Kong cinema work but also goes on to his more recent work with Donnie Yen in Iron Monkey. The second interview is with Leung Kar Yan, running for just under 10 minutes this in an interesting interview providing us with a unique insight to this now cult Hong Kong cinema legend although sometimes I felt that a better interviewer would have drawn out some more interesting stories.
Legend of a Fighter is a must have for any fans of the traditional martial arts genre as it fuses some wonderful fight choreography with a simple but solid story and some fine performances, and will also appeal to those who dislike the more comedic nature of the equivalent Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung titles of this era. This HKL DVD is technically proficient and only let down by the source materials available (although the cropping was a mistake on HKL part) while the extra features are interesting and in the case of the Leung Kar Yan biography and interview, currently exclusive to this release.
Last updated: 19/04/2018 18:05:09