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Legendary Assassin
     

(left) Wu Jing throws a punch, and (right) Celina Jade and Wu in Legendary Assassin.
Chinese: 狼牙  
Year: 2008  
Director: Wu Jing, Li Chung-Chi  
Writer: Fung Chih-Chiang  
Action: Jack Wong Wai-Leung, Li Chung-Chi  
Cast: Wu Jing, Celina Jade, Aoyama Noriko, Alex Fong Lik-Sun, Ronald Cheng Chung-Kei, Ken Lo Wai-Kwong, Hui Siu-Hung, Sammy, Kara Hui Ying-Hung, Tin Kai-Man, Lam Suet, Mark Cheng Ho-Nam, Kou Zhan-Wen, Candy Hau Woon-Ling
The Skinny: Wu Jing kicks ass but Legendary Assassin only throws mildly painful punches. Decent action and a few fun spots highlight this otherwise unremarkable and unoriginal action film.
 
Review
by Kozo:

He's got next. Again. Eternal fledgling martial arts superstar Wu Jing steps behind the camera for Legendary Assassin, his latest stab at solo movie stardom. Co-directed by Wu and action director Li Chung-Chi, the film possesses enough martial arts ass-kicking to entertain the action-starved masses - which is great because the characters and story are incredibly ordinary. Wu stars as Bo, an assassin who uses his martial arts skills to exact justice from those who deserve it. Or something like that. Bo is nominally a bad guy because he kills people for a living, but thanks to Wu Jing's righteous presence and the camera's glowing gaze, he comes off as a too-cool-for-school warrior with a heart of gold. This sort of character is a hackneyed genre staple, and is only notable here because it's a role that Wu Jing has yet to play in his career. I suppose that counts for something.

Taking place on an unnamed rural Hong Kong island, the action kicks off with Bo taking out tattooed crime boss Chairman Ma (Kou Zhan-Wen) in an athletic, relatively easy fashion. His next step is getting off the island, but a Typhoon Signal No. 8 (for the cloyingly named Typhoon Bo) cuts off all transport to the mainland. Luckily, he befriends cute policewoman Hiu Wor (Celina Jade), and even helps her rout a trio of thieves (led by Ken Lo) taking refuge on the island. He soon becomes fast friends with the local police (played by Hui Siu-Hung, Alex Fong Lik-Sun and Sammy, among others), who help him find a place to stay. However, Chairman Ma's followers (including Tin Kai-Man and Lam Suet) are looking for the guy who offed their boss, and when dawn breaks, the cops start a manhunt for the hitman, too. With all signs pointing to Bo, can he get off the island before he's forced to fight the gangsters and his new friends?

As action movies go, Legendary Assassin is blazingly unimaginative, so it naturally falls upon the film's star to carry the proceedings. If Donnie Yen had played Bo, then the character's calm and cool demeanor could have come off as a preening, superior attitude, and Yen's usual overacting could have made the film an unintentionally hilarious action classic. However, since the star is Wu Jing, we get a protagonist who seems to possess strong principles and a humble, decent soul. The role isn't a complex one, but Wu gives the character more than the writing explicitly allows. At the same time, Wu is believable when pummeling the bad guys, and the film takes flight whenever he's called upon to kick some ass or display some casual athleticism. Some stunts are likely wire-assisted, but Wu is a fine fighter and carries the film with a strong presence, showing why he's perpetually in line for future martial arts movie superstardom.

Wu Jing is easily the best thing about Legendary Assassin, but everything else is so average that the words "filler" come to mind. The story possesses little cleverness, and is given to perfunctory sentimentality and hard-boiled, "life in the underworld sucks" navel gazing. At one point, Bo even says to a confidante, "Will God forgive us?" I have no idea, but not all audiences will. The film lacks originality and personality, and could have likely starred any actor had they cut out the martial arts. Wu gives the material some weight, but he doesn't do enough to cover up the fact that this is bland action movie stuff. Wu and Li's direction doesn't do much to compensate either, as it's fairly routine, and even attempts the age-old trick of creating emotion by flashing back to scenes that occurred only ten minutes ago. Exposition is mostly visual and quite repetitive (there are about 20 establishing shots of people simply walking from place to place), though some sequences between Wu and his new cop pals are pleasant. On a technical level, the film is only average, and there are noticeable continuity gaffes. Don't expect to see this film up for any Hong Kong Film Awards.

Where Legendary Assassin does score is with its set pieces and minor details. The supporting cast helps; Ronald Cheng is funny in a cameo as a local restaurant owner, and Tin Kai-Man surprises as a henchman who knows Eagle Claw(!). Even Sammy and Alex Fong mix it up in action sequences, and female lead Celina Jade possesses winsome charm, if not actual acting skill. However, when talking about a movie like this, little matters besides the action sequences, and they're fine. The first big fight between Wu Jing, Ken Lo, and two henchman (one of them frighteningly oversized) is highlighted by aggressive sound design and some brutal impact. The climactic battle is also pretty cool, thanks to its rainy setting and impossible odds. While getting drenched by a torrential downpour, Wu Jing takes on scores of foes in a display of asskicking that should reward action fans who've waited (or maybe fast-forwarded) to the ending. It's a satisfying climax to a barely-satisfying movie, and helps offset the film's utter lack of substance. Ultimately, Legendary Assassin is easy to forgive but hard to completely appreciate, as it only scratches the surface of Wu Jing's abilities. Wu Jing can really do a lot more than this. Hopefully a project will come along that will allow him to show that off. (Kozo 2008)

 
Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Garry's Trading Co.
Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
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image credit: Gold Label Pictures

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