Ever since the iconic martial arts alleyway fight sequence in “SHA PO LANG” (aka. Killzone, U.S. title), Wu Jing has been the Hong Kong martial arts star expected to rise in the ranks of Jackie Chan and Jet Li. Luck hasn’t been really kind to this young martial artist, having a few mediocre films such as “Invisible Target” and “Fatal Move”, Wu Jing’s rise to action superstardom seems to have been delayed. However, the promising and charismatic Wu Shu Champion seems poised to steer his career in the right direction as he co-directs with Li-Chung Chi and stars in his latest attempt at solo action stardom; “Legendary Assassin” for 2008.
Bo (Wu Jing) is a young man who uses his exceptional martial arts skills to execute criminals. He is quiet, stealthy and efficient. One evening, after killing Chairman Ma (Kou Zhan-Wen), the head of a syndicate, Bo is stuck in the same island when a typhoon halts all ferry trips. He wanders and meets a beautiful female cop named Hiu Wor (Celina Jade). After helping her apprehend a trio of suspects, Bo is invited to the station to make a statement. Bo realizes that Hiu had began to develop feelings for him and he seems ready to return the favor. However, Ma’s wife, Boss Miho Sasaki (sexy Noriko Aoyama), a much meaner crimelord is bent on revenge and she is rapidly closing in on him. Can Bo escape his sins all the while avoiding arrest by the police?
An assassin with a heart of gold--this formula has been overused but there have been impressive attempts to build an effective screenplay around this premise such as the awesome “Azumi”, “Fulltime Killer”, “Crying Freeman” and the original “Bangkok Dangerous”. The plot in “Legendary Assassin” is pretty routine and the screenplay is definitely unimaginative. There are some nice touches as Bo wonders--”would God forgive our past?” and I was rather very pleased that Donnie Yen didn’t play this lead character. Yen may have a little bit of a “cooler” presence but he is too showy and overacting--with Wu Jing, at least, we get a quiet, humble presence that is likable and believable as a reluctant assassin. Wu is also a great martial artist so expect the moves to be performed with cool accuracy and the action would turn out convincing.
The proceedings of the film are also very simple, it lacks intricacy and individuality. The script is pretty much “cardboard” and never attempts to give an impression that this is more than your bland action film. The usual formulaic approaches are present; slapstick humor, obligatory characters, a budding romance between one on the side of the law and a man who is a renegade. It also tries to emote some sentimentality but it felt too mechanical. The trick with the flashbacks and the expositions doesn’t carry much weight since it feels a little too repetitive; it feels more a visual filler rather than an inherent part of the film. There are also a hefty dose of plot holes so don’t expect this film to win any awards.
Now as for the action, well, it is very entertaining to watch. The martial arts fights are very cool to see even though there is nothing quite fresh about them. Wu definitely knows how to perform the usual wire-fu as highlights include a first major fight with Ken Lo and two henchmen that includes a huge Chinese goon who looks like “Jaws” from Roger Moore’s “James Bond” films. There is also a very cool set up when Bo walks in a heavy downpour with about a hundred opponents lined up to try and beat him to a pulp in the final fight. Most of the time, the results would be predictable, but they nonetheless fun to witness and very cool to watch. The fights are hard-hitting and brutal enough to excite the male testosterone with a mild showing of blood.
Aside from the film’s fight sequences, the film does have its high points. The cops here at least may act inept at times but they do know how to fight. Sure, they’re not in the same class as Bo, but at least Sammy Leung and Alex Fong get to mix it up with some action scenes. Tin Kai-man (Kung Fu Hustle) stars as the henchman named “Jellyfish” and he knows eagle claw kung fu. Lam Suet also makes an appearance but he had limited screen time. Aoyama Noriko is totally alluring as the mysterious Madame Miho Sasaki. Celina Jade’s acting may be a little wooden but she does have that significant likable charm.
Yes, “Legendary Assassin” is your routine brainless action film, but it is real fun to watch. Certain plot elements are too perfunctory and it is definitely very predictable but if you manage to look beyond those weaknesses, Wu Jing’s charisma and martial arts prowess may be enough to carry the film. The very cool climactic fight and the satisfying climax may be a little melodramatic but it is a satisfying resolution to an otherwise less than stellar movie. Solo Kung Fu superstardom is still within Wu’s reach, but this film will not be that ONE film that will make him but at least it won’t break him either. I am still keeping my fingers crossed that a project will come along to take him to new heights and fulfill his promise as the next Jet Li.