Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Title: The Legend (Fong Sai Yuk) (1993)
Studio Line: Buena Vista - When Forces CollideÖOnly One Survives!

Hard-hitting international superstar Jet Li (Romeo Must Die, Lethal Weapon4) delivers nonstop action in this thrilling story of a young martial arts expert fighting to save his father's life! A ruthless emperor is targeting members of an underground revolutionary group that is attempting to overthrow his powerful regime. When Fong Sai Yuk (Li) learns that his father is part of the resistance movement and has been marked for retribution, he boldly seeks a head-on confrontation with the mighty of this evil empire! Another outstanding addition to the action-packed Jet Li Film Collection -- you won't want to miss a minute of the excitement as the unstoppable Jet Li performs all of his own amazing hand-to-hand combat in spectacular martial arts fight sequences!

Director: Cory Yuen
Cast: Jet Li, Josephine Siao, Chu Kong, Michelle Reis, Sung Young Chen, Man Cheuk Chiu
DVD: Widescreen 1.85:1; audio English DD 5.1; subtitles none; closed-captioned; single sided - single layered; 21 chapters; rated R; 95 min.; $32.99; street date 12/12/00.
Supplements: None.
Purchase: DVD

Picture/Sound/Extras: B+/B/F

Slowly but surely, actors who hit it big in Asia have migrated to Hollywood. Jackie Chan remains the biggest of this bunch - no one else has approached his level of American success - but the growing line contains a lot of other prominent names; performers such as Chow Yun-Fat and Michelle Yeoh are just some of the better known actors.

Add Jet Li to that list. He made his initial impression upon American audiences through a stand-out performance in 1998ís otherwise-abysmal Lethal Weapon 4; without Liís hyperkinetic theatrics that flick would have been really miserable. Since that time Li has made one more Hollywood picture: 2000ís passable but fairly weak Romeo Must Die. That film showed off some of his talents but failed in many other regards.

A number of other Li movies have appeared in American multiplexes, but none of them were created for domestic audiences. Instead, US studios have taken advantage of his burgeoning fame in this country by issuing his older Asian pictures complete with newly-dubbed soundtracks.

Into that category falls The Legend, a Li offering originally released in 1993. Hereís a synopsis - see if it makes sense: Fong (Li) falls in love with a beautiful girl but then seems to be stuck with an uglier one whose hand he wins in a martial arts contest but it turns out that theyíre one and the same. As part of the contest, Fongís mom (Josephine Siao) poses as a man; as a result, the wife of the merchant falls in love with him/her. All the while Fongís dad (Chu Kong) works as part of an underground movement to undermine an evil leader.

Got all that? Well, it makes sense if you watch it, and even if it doesnít, thatís not really important - The Legend is all about the action. When the film sticks to martial arts excitement, it tends to work fairly well. The contest scene in which Fong fights the merchantís wife - who is a kick-ass gal herself - is a winner, especially since Fongís mamma gets involved and makes the whole thing go on to a level of delightful excess. Other scenes of this ilk are similarly fun, though the contest remains the best part of the movie.

I also really liked the fact that the ladies got their due. Between Mamma Fong and the merchantís wife, two of the filmís best fighters were women - and somewhat older ones, at that. Such an attitude would be almost impossible to find in a Hollywood flick, and itíd be difficult to locate such tendencies many other places as well. But not only does The Legend feature two battling babes, but it makes their skills seem logical and appropriate; their abilities are never used as comic fodder, and I really bought them in the roles.

Otherwise, however, The Legend seemed like a fairly ordinary martial arts flick. The story is fairly unengaging and it lacked spark. The comic elements were uninspired, and the characters didnít offer much charm or development. Some of this is due to a poor English dub - Iíll rant about that later. However, as often seems to be the case with Hong Kong films, The Legend largely feels like a lot of action with a little story tacked on to it.

For fans of the genre, the movie will probably work well. Iím not especially fascinated with this kind of picture, but I still found The Legend to offer enough fun and frolic to make it worth a look. However, it wasnít something that particularly impressed me; I liked it but I canít say that it did a whole lot for me.

The DVD:

The Legend appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Although the picture presented a few concerns, for the most part I found it to look very pleasing.

Sharpness seemed excellent throughout the film. Virtually no signs of soft or hazy images appear as the entire movie was crisp and detailed. Moirť effects and jagged edges caused no noticeable concerns, and artifacts from the anamorphic downconversion on my 4X3 TV seemed negligible.

Colors appeared nicely accurate and bold. The Legend featured a rather varied and bright palette, and all of these hues were well-reproduced on this DVD. I found the colors to look clear and tight at all times, with no examples of bleeding or noise. Black levels seemed similarly fine, as all dark tones appeared deep and rich. Shadow detail was appropriately heavy but never excessively thick; the low-light scenes looked nicely visible.

The only major problem viewed on this DVD stemmed from print flaws. These concerns werenít overwhelming but they seemed heavier than Iíd like. I detected various examples of speckles, blotches, grit and grain throughout the film. There were also a few isolated instances of more severe flaws. Some scenes showed thin vertical lines, while a frames jumped a few times and a nasty hair or two marred the presentation. As a whole, The Legend looked very good, but these defects knocked my rating down to a still-solid ďB+Ē.

Also very good but not great was the filmís Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. Right off the bat I need to note that this is an English dubbed version of the original mix; we definitely do not find the Cantonese track from the movieís initial release on this DVD. Thatís a shame since - as with many other Asian films - the dubbing is pretty poor. The mix suffers from weak voice acting that gives the movie an unnecessarily goofy atmosphere. In the almost 50 years since Godzilla first appeared, it seems that dubbing of Asian movies hasnít improved much, though I will admit that the speech in The Legend matches the mouth movements acceptably well.

Despite the weak dubbing, the soundtrack to The Legend seemed fairly satisfying. The soundfield featured a fairly heavy forward bias in which the front speakers provided the strong majority of the audio. In that spectrum, the sounds seemed to be acceptably well-positioned and they moved between channels neatly. The surrounds offered modest reinforcement of music for the most part, but they also kicked in some effects at times; for example, a thunderstorm reverberated strongly throughout the room when it occurred.

Audio quality appeared fairly good. Despite the awkward dubbing, dialogue seemed accurate and crisp, with no signs of edginess or problems related to intelligibility. Effects were clear and dynamic as they cleanly replicated the items they are supposed to represent; these aspects of the mix came across as rich and bold. Music seemed smooth and bright as well, and the score demonstrated some solid bass when appropriate. The soundtrack to The Legend lost some points due to a lack of ambition, but its greatest flaw was the poorly-dubbed speech; otherwise it provided a pretty satisfying auditory environment.

Much less acceptable are the DVDís extras. Put simply, there arenít any. No theatrical trailer, no commentary, no featurette - no nothing. Boo!

Actually, the DVD doesnít completely lack supplements, but the included pieces donít really qualify since they fall into the category of ďSneak PeeksĒ. The disc provides advertisements for a slew of other martial arts films. We get promos for The Enforcer, Twin Warriors, Operation Condor, Operation Condor 2, Supercop, and Supercop 2.

While the movie has its moments, for the most part The Legend is a DVD to avoid. The film itself offered some fun during its over-the-top fight scenes, but it lacked much material that would consistently interest me. The DVD provides fairly solid picture and sound but it includes absolutely no substantial extras and also doesnít feature the original soundtrack. As such, it should be left for the absolute Jet Li die-hards.

Editor's Note: Actually, for Jet Li die-hards, please check out the remastered original version which is titled Fong Sai Yuk and not the butchered and sillily dubbed American release. The remastered version is available from Hong Kong Universe with Cantonese & Mandarin DD 5.1, widescreen format, English subtitle, and best of all, the DVD can be played on all region. For more info, visit this site.

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