As the saying goes, it is a stupid man who keeps coming back for more punishment from the same source. I am that stupid man, since Legend of Speed is the second movie directed by Andrew Lau and starring Ekin Cheng that I have seen in as many days. Why, oh why, did I not learn my lesson?
Legend of Speed stars Ekin Cheng (manga-inspired strands of hair firmly in place as usual) as Sky, an underground street racing champion who takes on all comers. Sky, the son of another legendary street champ known as Black Tone, is a spoiled rich boy who likes to abuse anyone who isn’t him and break his opponent’s leg. When Sky beats, and then breaks the leg of, the brother of yet another racing legend name Tang Fung (Simon Yam), Fung decides it’s time to take the little bugger (re: Sky) down a few pegs. Recently released from prison on good behavior, Fung challenges Sky to a race, and in short order, sends Sky and his co-pilot, girlfriend Kelly (Kelly Lin), plummeting down a highway to certain death. Kelly is killed and Sky arrested, and that’s only the beginning of Sky’s problems…
It is just another example of cosmic injustice that actor Simon Yam, a man of prodigious thespian ability and charm, has been relegated to villain and supporting roles. The man is clearly the best thing about Legend of Speed, and the movie lights up when he is onscreen. Consequently, the film’s entertainment value dims greatly and the charisma level drops off significantly when the movie shifts to focus on Cheng’s Sky and his neverending battle to stop being such a spoiled jerk.
The movie’s B-plot is Sky’s search for his father, Black Tone, who is cutting the hair of young kids in Thailand and pimping his Thai wife to tourists. (Gee, now I know where Sky gets his “class”.) Legend of Speed’s supporting cast includes Cecilia Cheung (Legend of Zu) as Nancy, the lovestruck sister of one of Sky’s mechanics. Nancy is in love with Sky and gushes whenever she’s around him. Cheung’s scenes with her movie brother, Paddy (Moses Chan) are one of the film’s better sides. The two have an easy chemistry and Nancy’s protectiveness for the slightly retarded Paddy is charming and believable.
Legend of Speed is a racing movie focusing on the underground racing circuit, similar to Rob Cohen’s The Fast and the Furious. Made in 1999, Legend of Speed obviously came first, and the movie opens with a very exciting sports bike race between Sky and Fung’s brother. That race is clearly the best action sequence in the entire film. When the racers switch to cars, things slow down a bit, mostly because director Lau relies on fast-motion filming to speed up the action. Another scene involving a race in the streets of Thailand is laugh-out-loud funny — not because it’s amusing, but because it’s so badly filmed and choreographed.
Another plus for the film is the minimum usage of computer effects. Director Lau uses a technique called “blurring” sparingly. The technique gives the impression of taillights lingering behind as a streak of primary color even after the cars have sped past. It’s highly effective, stylish, and its underusage makes it something to look forward to. (See, Andrew? Sometimes less is more.)
Plot-wise, Legend of Speed slows down after Sky flees Hong Kong for Thailand in search of his father. The movie wastes about 50 or so minutes in Thailand where nothing much happens except Sky walking around the city asking total strangers if they know who his father is, or showing them an old picture of his dad from what must have been 20 years ago. (Not very effective ways of locating a missing person, natch.) When the father is finally located, we get one endless scene after another of the two “bonding.” I guess that’s what they’re called. (I prefer “nap time” myself.)
Once again, I am at a loss to understand the popularity of Ekin Cheng, who seems capable of only one facial expression. I have said it often and I will say it again: Ekin Cheng has the charisma and energy of a rock — and that’s insulting rocks everywhere. I suppose there must be something about the man that Hong Kong audiences find so irresistible. I guess it’s a “Hong Kong thing,” and God willing, I will never “get it.”
Legend of Speed features one intense racing sequence in the beginning and two mildly entertaining car races after that. The rest of the movie is devoid of interesting action and involves Sky’s “soul searching” in Thailand. If you like a movie that spends 90% of its running length focusing on Cheng’s lifeless face and one visible eye (since the other one is always covered) then Legend of Speed is your cup of tea.
It’s a shame, though, that Simon Yam wasn’t given the lead role. The man is certainly due for some recognition. His inability to snare a lead role will continue to be a source of consternation for moviegoers who like their leading man to show that he’s more than a lifeless mannequin. (Are you listening, Ekin?)
Despite all of its familiar and clich’ aspects, Rob Cohen’s Fast and the Furious is actually a better film. At least Cohen understood what his movie was about, and gave us plenty of exciting car races/chases to past the time between the inane undercover-cop story.
Andrew Lau (director) / Manfred Wong (screenplay)
CAST: Ekin Cheng …. Sky
Cecilia Cheung …. Nancy
Moses Chan …. Paddy