Legend Of The Wolf
1997 (Lead / Director)
(Selected: Fantasia Festival, Montreal, Canada)
Yen’s directorial debut is part Twilight Zone, part gang tale and all martial arts, the latter causing Hong Kong critic Po Kam-hung to gush, ‘a single blade against the axe-gang, flying dagger between the legs, double crutches defeating the iron chain, bare fists against the "eagle’s talons."’ Also known in Asian markets as The New Big Boss. Cranked up and inventive action sequences, experimental camerawork and editing, and rhythmic flow indicate Yen’s direction for future films.
The story centers on the Wolf, an aged hitman formerly known as Man-hing, and played by Yen. Present time scenes are set in a blue-lit Batcave where Wolf’s loyal partner (Ben Lam) plays Alfred to Yen’s Bruce Wayne. The Wolf lurks at frame’s edge throughout. Ben (Edmond Leung) contacts the Wolf over the Internet to set up a contract killing; instead, Wolf and his partner seek to convince Ben, like many before him, of the error of his ways. Ironically, this violent action film carries a non-violent message, despite a decapitation, some heavy fighting, and even eye gouging. Still, the fight sequences are original and enervating, including two battles in water, unusual weapons pitted against the hero, and quite possibly the most phenomenal hand-to-hand running fight sequence recorded on film. Hong Kong critic Po Kam-hung calls the movie ‘a surprisingly exhilarating kung fu film.’ Watch for Yen’s explosive power in his arsenal of jumping kicks—splits, spins, front and back.
Low-key lighting, high contrast combinations, and the accompanying soundtrack set the moody and nostalgic tone. Legend serves as an elegy for a time when kung fu movies reigned supreme, but with a difference. Yen abandons the old-time linear filming style of his elders, with blocked moves and predictable rhythms for a hyperbolic action style, drawing on his interpretive and improvisational skills as a filmmaker. New and unexpected rhythms keep viewers feeling the emotional range of the Wolf/Man-hing, as he vacillates between confusion, anger, and love.
Through a series of flashbacks, Man-hing is revealed as a gang member who’s lost his memory and knows only to wait for the woman he loves (Carmen Lee). While the younger Man-hing lives up to the wolf stereotype—bloodthirsty and fearsome—the old man more truly and sadly resembles the misunderstood real
Cast: Donnie Yen, Carmen Lee Yeuk-tung, Darren Wong Chi-wah, Ben Lam Kwok-bun, Edmond Leung Hon-man, Lai Suk-yin