Director: Wong Jing
Screenplay: Wong Jing
Starring: Jet Li, Sharla Cheung, Alan Chui Chung-San, Dicky Cheung Wai-Kin, Leung Kar-yan, Anita Yuen, Natalis Chan, Kingdom Yuen, Linda Cheung Lan-Ying
Country: Hong Kong
Running Time: 110 min
BBFC Certificate: 15
I’m not quite sure what someone’s put in the waters over at 88 Films’ and Eureka’s headquarters but Last Hero in China (a.k.a. Wong Fei Hung V: Tit gai dau ng gung) is one of nine Wong Jing titles released or due to be released in less than a year between the two labels, mostly in the last few months of 2023 and January 2024. We’ve been here to cover the whole lot (with Leon taking over from me on Fight Back to School III) because, whilst he doesn’t always have the best reputation in the world, to put it mildly, we (or at least I) believe Wong Jing is more than capable of making highly entertaining films, even if they can get a little puerile and nonsensical.
Saying that, I almost turned down a chance to review Last Hero in China. It’s a film I’d seen a while ago on a dodgy DVD version Metrodome put out in 2000 and, I must admit, I thought it was pretty mediocre. As such, I wasn’t too fussed about revisiting the film. However, after seeing some surprisingly positive reviews online after Eureka’s forthcoming Blu-ray was announced and following my growing appreciation for Wong Jing’s wacky stylings, I figured I should give the film a second chance.
Last Hero in China sees Jet Li reprise his star-making role as Wong Fei-Hung. Rumours say he fell out with Tsui Hark, so departed the Once Upon a Time in China series after part 3 but somehow he was talked into shifting the legendary character into another film for another production company.
In Last Hero in China, Wong Fei-Hung’s clinic and kung fu school, Po-chi-lam, has become too small for its growing number of students, so Fei-Hung relocates it to a new building. However, originally unbeknownst to him, Po-chi-lam’s new location is next to a brothel. This displeases the honourable Fei-Hung but his students are in heaven. As such, they make various attempts to convince their master the school should stay, whilst the brothel’s owner/pimp, Mass-Tar Wong (Wong Jing regular, Chan Pak-Cheung) desperately tries to talk Fei-Hung into teaching him kung-fu.
Meanwhile, a corrupt general wants Fei-Hung gone because he fears that the legendary hero will discover he’s part of a human trafficking ring. A father/daughter team (Chu Tit-Wo and Sharla Cheung), searching for a kidnapped relative, are already on his trail though.
Well, I’m glad I chose to revisit Last Hero in China as I enjoyed it a great deal the second time around.
Whilst there’s quite a lot going on in the film (more than my short synopsis suggests), I didn’t find it as hard to follow as some, more madcap Hong Kong movies. Wong Jing’s work, in particular, is known for its wild tangents and, whilst there are numerous comedy skits that don’t necessarily service the plot, the narrative itself is reasonably focused.
Surprisingly, given the brothel aspect of the story, Last Hero in China isn’t quite as lewd as many of Wong Jing’s other films either. The humour is still broad, of course, but there are less knob gags than Royal Tramp, for instance. It certainly made me chuckle more than a few times. I particularly enjoyed the prostitute’s bawdy spin on ‘On the General’s Orders’, the song that has become Wong Fei-Hung’s ‘theme’, as such.
Jet Li is not known for his comedy, so might seem miscast here but Jing sensibly keeps him as very much the straight man, playing to his strengths. Indeed, he effectively sticks to his usual, dignified Wong Fei-hung portrayal, whilst most of the rest of the cast provide the laughs.
The film is somewhat infamous for its bizarre rooster vs centipede climax. However, in defence of Jing, one of the Kwan Tak-hing-starring Wong Fei Hung films from the 50s was, in fact, called The Iron Rooster Versus the Centipede. Plus, you know what, as bizarre as the scene seems to Western audiences in particular, watching it again now, it’s actually quite an impressively choreographed sequence and isn’t that far detached from the traditional lion dancing that the scene stems from.
The film’s action choreography is where the film truly excels though. Whilst I’ve so far largely been making excuses for why I enjoyed Last Hero in China or stating that “it’s good for a Wong Jing film”, I can safely say that the fight scenes here are genuinely good. The great Yuen Woo-ping choreographed (and likely directed) the action sequences and, as usual for the hugely influential figure, they’re elaborate, inventive and stunning to watch.
The fighting cast members get to show their stuff too, with Li even getting to demonstrate his drunken style at the end. This is particularly good and I think it stands up against Jackie Chan’s technique in the same style. Bryan Leung Kar-yan also shows, once again, that, despite his lack of martial arts training, he can pull off some convincing moves and Gordon Liu even crops up in a small but memorable role.
Overall then, after being hesitant to rewatch the film, Last Hero in China ended up being a pleasant surprise. With plenty of top-notch action and a healthy dose of humour without pushing things too far, it’s one of Wong Jing’s best and a whole heap of fun.
Last Hero in China is out on 27th November on region B Blu-Ray, released by 88 Films (pre-order it here – https://88-films.myshopify.com/products/last-hero-in-china). The transfer looks pretty good for the most part. Colours are pleasing and grain is usually well handled. However, there was a slightly artificial look in places, seemingly caused by either digital smoothing or poor compression. I’ve used screengrabs throughout to give you an idea of how it looks. These have been compressed further but they do give a fairly good idea when you click to see full size. The centepede image is the best example of the problematic shots I mentioned.
For audio, you get a choice of the original theatrical Cantonese mono, a Cantonese home video mix or an English dub. I opted for the theatrical Cantonese and had no issues.
LIMITED EDITION SPECIAL FEATURES
– Double Walled Silver Board O-Ring featuring new artwork by 17th & Oak
– Double-sided foldout poster
– HD Transfer in Original 1.85:1 Aspect Ratio
– High Definition (1080p) Blu-ray™ Presentation
– 2.0 Cantonese Original Theatrical Mono with English Subtitles
– 2.0 Cantonese Home Video Mix with English Subtitles
– 2.0 English Dub
– Audio Commentary with Hong Kong Film Expert James Mudge
– Deleted Scenes
– Jet Li’s UK Visit (2000)
– Stills Gallery
– Reversible cover with new art by 17th & Oak and original Hong Kong Poster
James Mudge provides the commentary for a change. He delivers a well-balanced track, combining well-informed background info on the film and its makers with some analysis. I enjoyed the track a great deal and hope to see his name crop up again sometime in the future.
‘Jet Li’s UK Visit’ sees the actor interviewed around the time of the release of Romeo Must Die, his first lead role in an English language film. We get to see him meet his UK fan club too. There are also plenty of cool clips from his films included and some interesting comments about projects he was currently working on (some of which never happened). It’s just over half an hour in length, so is fairly substantial and engrossing.
The deleted scenes are worth a watch too. They’re all extended sequences, often just adding another gag or two, but one addition puts an interesting twist on Wong Fei-hung’s reaction to his students trying to confront members of the Boxer Rebellion. There’s a little more lion dancing too.
Overall, 88 Films have given one of Jet Li’s unfairly less-respected films a much-deserved new lease of life. Martial arts movie fans would be wise to pick it up.