Last Hero in China
AKA: Deadly China Hero, Claws of Steel
Director: Wong Jing
Action Director: Yuen Woo-Ping
Stars: Jet Li, Chueng Man, Gordon Liu, Anita Yuen, Ng Man-Tat
After a series of disputes with director Tsui Hark during the filming of the Once Upon a Time in China films, star Jet Li left the series. He teamed with Wong Jing (who was having his own problems with Tsui, who called Wong's films "no good") to create this unique take on the life of folk hero Wong Fei-Hung. Last Hero in China follows the basic plot of many of the OUATIC movies. Basically, Wong runs afoul of the local government and faces opposition from a resistance group -- this time, it's the Boxers. However, since this is a Wong Jing movie, things don't always go by the book, so to speak.
The movie goes something like this: after losing his hospital/school Po Chi Lam to a greedy landlord, Wong moves in with a kindly businessman (Ng) who just happens to be Canton's "no. 1 pimp." Of course, all the girls (among them the lovely Anita Yuen) think Wong is dreamy and try to snare him. This kind of silliness goes on for some time until a group of "renegade pervert monks" begin to kidnap the girls, at which point Wong hops in to help and beats the hell out of the monks (who are led by Gordon Liu). The monks manage to fool the authorities into letting them go and then further humiliate Wong by beating him in a Lion Dance using a giant fire-breathing centipede. Disgraced (and for some reason, deaf) Wong heads out to a house in the country, where he meets up with a jobless man and his daughter (Chueng Man) who nurse him back to health. While at the house, he notices a rooster killing a centipede and realizes the way to defeat the monks. After heading off some corrupt government troops, Wong and his band head back to Canton, where they beat the hell out of the monks, the Boxers and the corrupt troops.
If you haven't seen this film before, then you may have heard about Jet Li dressing up as a rooster. Yes, he does do that, but it's really not all that bad. I was expecting him to be dressed up like Big Bird, but aside from an oversized helmet and some annoying clucking sounds, the scene isn't all that silly. It's actually pretty entertaining. In fact, the movie as a whole is quite good -- I had a better time with Last Hero in China than the last three OUATIC films. The fight sequences aren't stellar, but they definitely get the job done, especially the finale which has Wong adopting the "drunken fist" style (made popular by Jackie Chan's version of the Wong Fei-Hung story, Drunken Master). And the comedic bits (which include jabs at the characterization of Wong Fei-Hung present in the OUATIC movies) actually work for the most part. If you don't like Wong Jing's films and Yuen Woo-Ping's style of wire-fu, then Last Hero in China is a film you should stay away from. Otherwise, give it a try.
Note: Arena's version Deadly China Hero is heavily edited (most of the bits between Wong and the hookers -- including a musical number -- are cut out) and has a horrid picture.
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