The Legend And Hag Of Shaolin

洪熙官之魔门妖女 | Legend & Hag of Shaolin | Hong Xiguan and Demon Gate Witch
 •  , , ,  •   • Dir.

Reviewed by   |  May 28, 2024

With Wong Fei-Hung and Ip Man still being the go-to heroes for Chinese cinema, it’s nice to see a couple of old favourites return to the fray. The awkwardly-titled ‘The Legend and Hag of Shaolin’ brings together Hung Hsi-Kwan and Fong Sai Yuk in an effort that is a nod to films like ‘Heroes Two’, ‘New Legend of Shaolin’ and ‘Once Upon A Time In China’.

Shaolin hero Hung Hsi-Kwan, along with fellow patriot Fong Sai Yuk, escape from the temple as the government forces begin to tighten their grip on all rebels. Hung is given a treasure map to pass on to the rebels and soon finds that every other cutthroat in the martial world is after it to enrich themselves. Chief among the antagonists are the royal forces, White Lotus Cult, and his badly scarred former friend who now wants the treasure for himself. While Hung manages to find a new place to build a new life, it isn’t long before his enemies track him down.

There’s been quite a few of these Chinese films made specifically for television or the streaming market. Once again, I couldn’t help wondering if the ninety minute duration had been edited down from a much longer series or film as the story gives the viewer no room to breathe. There’s an unusual avalanche of exposition at the beginning and twists aplenty, all conducted at a breakneck speed, almost as if you are watching it on fast forward. This makes for a confusing experience that takes some time to acclimatise to.

Despite all of this, this is among the very best of its kind. Once it settles down and the MacGuffin doesn’t become the sole focus of the story, ‘The Legend and Hag of Shaolin’ becomes an enjoyable homage to early 90s Hong Kong cinema. First of all, this is an attractive film; the scenes of light snow falling against winter skies as the combatants face each other is a visual treat. Too often do we see modern films go for a needlessly artificial look that overdoses on computer enhancements.

The most pleasing aspect of ‘The Legend and Hag of Shaolin’, though, is the action. It suffers from the half second shot that is so familiar today, but it also utilises actors with real talent for the physical responsibilities. It’s a very welcome throwback to the New Wave period of thirty years ago, and it looks fresh and new because of it. The fights between the hero and his former friend are a stand-out and will have viewers dusting off their old copies of the Jet Li classics. It ends abruptly, perhaps with the intention of setting up a sequel, and is unnecessarily convoluted, as if four hours of plot needed to be crammed into ninety minutes. Yet, for the most part, it is a slick homage to an era three decades ago that truly spoiled us.

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