Directed by Wong Jing and Coey Yuen
Written by Wong Jing
I don't care how jaded you are; unless you're a connoisseur of Hong Kong movies, The New Legend of Shaolin will make your jaw drop. Even if you are, it will probably drop anyway.
It's hard to know where to begin when reviewing a movie which is set in Ching-dynasty China and features
Clearly, this movie is deeply strange. If it was a person, one wouldn't know whether to send for the men with butterfly nets, or let it drive you to Las Vegas for the adventure of your life.
The plot is hard to describe. Wong Jing and Corey Yuen put the elements I mention above in a blender and hit "mix really fast." The best I can do is to say that Jet Li and his son are protecting the kung fu treasure map boys from the Poison Man. The Notorious Mother and Daughter weave in and out of this plot as Jet Li and The Notorious Daughter fall for each other, and The Notorious Mother first scares the little boys out of their wits, then demands that they fetch her "roast chicken ass," then bonds with them to the point where she's willing to fight to the death for them. Despite the difficulty of constructing a coherent plot outline in retrospect, the movie doesnt seem at all confusing or nonsensical when you watch it.
Nothing in director Corey Yuen's prior films, including the lively action movie My Father Is a Hero, aka the obligatory stupid American title of Jet Li's The Enforcer, and the gripping and quirky but nowhere near this quirky historical kung fu films, also starring Jet Li, Fong Sai Yuk and Fong Sai Yuk II, prepared me for this one.
A check of co-director and writer Wong Jing's filmography uncovered Legend of the Liquid Sword, Iron Rooster Vs. Centipede, and Naked Killer 2 aka Legal Rape aka Super Rape aka Raped By An Angel, so I think we know who was responsible for the enchanting eccentricity of The New Legend of Shaolin. We probably also now know more about a certain segment of Hong Kong movies and their viewing public than we really wanted to know, but there are too many perverts and icky movies in America for us to point fingers at Hong Kong and, in any case, there is no rape in The New Legend of Shaolin.
There are, however: much excitement, comedy, flying kung fu masters and spectacular kung fu wirework, a charming performance by Miu Tse as Jet Li's son (also excellent as Jet Li's kung fu-fighting son in My Father Is A Hero), and wall-to-wall weirdness. And if you watch it, then wake up the next morning wondering, "Did I really see that?", I can say only this: I saw the wax museum scene too, and we could not possibly have been taking the same drugs.
The New Legend of Shaolin is available in subtitled DVD and VHS editions from the US-based distributor Tai Seng Video and can be ordered from them or from Amazon.com. It is currently onsale from Taiseng and is a bit cheaper there than at Amazon. It can be found in many Chinatown DVD stores in Los Angeles, San Francisco and NY for even less. The Tai Seng editions of both can also be found at Borders, Suncoast and similar outlets. Tai Seng also offers dubbed versions of the VHS tapes and there is an English track on their DVDs as well as the Cantonese one.
New Legend is also available in a retitled US edition from Columbia/Tristar
called Legend of the Red Dragon. This is dubbed in English but I don't
know what else they've done to it. It should probably be avoided.
[Rachel Manija Brown]