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Legendary Assassin
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by Jay Seaver

"Not 'legendary' yet, but certainly 'well-liked and respectable'."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2009 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: It seems like everybody's been talking about Wu Jing being the next big action star for a few years, but it hasn't directly translated into lead roles - for crying out loud, he was taking roles like "Assassin #1" in "The Mummy 3" last year! Why that is when Jackie Chan and Jet Li aren't what they used to be and Donnie Yen can't be in everything, I don't know, but he's apparently decided that if getting behind the camera is what it takes to get front-and-center, that's what he'll do - and it's not a bad choice.

Wu plays Bo, who has just arrived on one of Hong Kong's outlying islands to collect the head of Timothy "Chairman" Ma (Keu Zhan-wen), which he has done without a lot of trouble. The hitch is that a typhoon has shut the ferries down, just after they've disgorged a couple other gangsters, Jellyfish ("Tenky" Tin Kai-man) and Fat Wing (Lam Suet) and their crew, looking for Ma at the behest of his wife (Noriko Aoyama), who is running the business while Ma hides out. Oh, and that nice girl Bo caught falling out of a tree after chasing her cat? Hiu Wor (Celina Jade) is a cop - who immediately gets in more trouble trying to arrest three large bank robbers.

Legendary Assassin is a star vehicle for Wu Jing, I believe the first for a guy generally brought in as a challenging screen opponent for bigger names, and he does have a nice, understated charisma in this film. He doesn't have a lot of dialog - there seem to be hints in the subtitles that Bo is not as adept in Cantonese as in Mandarin - but he's got expressive eyes and does a nice job of communicating physically even when he's not fighting. Being the mysterious, quiet man in this movie probably helps him, actually, letting him underplay the comedy that everyone else plays broadly.

Of course, what he's really there to do is fight, and the movie doesn't disappoint on that count. There aren't a whole lot of opponents in this movie that are in Wu's league skill-wise - the most impressive one-on-one is with Tenky Tin - so we get a lot of action scenes where Bo is taking on multiple opponents, many larger than he is, or working with Celina Jade as a team. It's a kind of brute-force practice - in order to keep escalating, the final act has Bo fighting literally dozens of goons. These scenes do give Wu a chance to show off his agility, and are well-choreographed and reasonably well-shot, with close-ups opening up as the movie goes on.

Both Wu and co-director "Nicky" Li Chung-chi (Li is credited first) have most of their background in stuntwork, and it does show in how the action is put together well, whether it be fighting or physical comedy, but everything else seems a little sloppy. Comic relief is basically mugging for the camera, there are too many overdone flashbacks, and when they try to edit events out of chronological order for impact, it seems to be too much for them. They don't get a lot of help from Fung Chi-keung's simple script, and the supporting cast is mostly mediocre: Lam Suet shows he's a seasoned pro by just looking a little pained at moving his bulk around, rather than wheezing, and Celina Jade reminds me of Sandra Bullock's early roles, in that she's cute and charming and hasn't quite figured out how to fill a character out yet.

Jade, Wu, and Li are just getting their starts - at least on this level - so it's okay for them to be a little rough, especially since they do know what they're doing when it comes time for the action to start. For all the film's relatively minor faults, it is a pretty compelling argument that Wu Jing has what it takes to be kung fu cinema's next big thing.

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originally posted: 07/14/09 15:52:39
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Fantasia Festival For more in the 2009 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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  N/A (R)
  DVD: 28-Dec-2010



Directed by
  Chung Chi Li
  Jacky Wu

Written by
  Chi Keung Fung

  Jacky Wu
  Celina Jade
  Kara Hui
  Zhan-Wen Keu

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