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Jacky Wu, aka Wu Jing, the star of “Legendary Assassin” has been touted as the next Jet Li/Jackie Chan ever since he burst onto the scene in the ‘90s, then progressed in supporting roles (usually as the silent but deadly bad guy with lightning fast kicks) in crime and martial arts movies starring bigger names like Sammo Hung and Donnie Yen. Wu’s first big stab at carving out a leading man career was 2006’s “Fatal Contact”, one of those genre films about illegal martial arts fighting designed specifically to show off the star’s ability to kick ass. “Contact” didn’t really make Wu the star everyone was expecting, though it certainly lifted his profile and led to more notable roles in “Invisible Target” and “Twins Mission”, the latter starring the formerly ubiquitous pop duo. (Also, according to IMDB.com, Wu also had a bit role as an unnamed assassin in the recent “Mummy” film, but if he was actually in it, I must have missed it.) So is “Legendary Assassin” of legendary proportions? Not quite, but it’s another good effort from the burgeoning action star.
In “Legendary Assassin”, Jacky Wu is Bo, one of those assassins who only seem to kill bad guys, and who constantly questions his profession over a bowl of food. His latest job takes him to an outlying Hong Kong island, where he easily completes his assignment (the dispensing of a Triad boss). Of course, if things were as simple as that, we wouldn’t have a movie. Problems arise, as they invariably do, when an approaching typhoon (named Typhoon Bo, no less!) seals off the island, rendering ferries unable to leave and our hitman hero stranded. Things go from inconvenient to bad when the hitman saves a clumsy but oh so cute woman name Hiu Wor (Celina Jade), who turns out to be a spunky cop that he can’t help but fall for. And oh yeah, remember the triad he just killed and decapitated, and whose head he’s now hauling around in a bowling ball bag? Well, the guy has friends, and his friends have come looking for him and they’re not going to leave until they do.
“Legendary Assassin” is first and foremost a starring vehicle for Jacky Wu, who co-directs the movie along with long-time action choreographer Chung Chi Li. No surprise, then, that with two action men calling the shots the story is thin at best, with a few cute sequences used to fill the time in-between the big action stuff. The film is definitely action-packed, and the ending features a favorite of Hong Kong martial arts movies where our hero takes on an obscene number of foes at once – and in a torrential downpour, no less! (What, did you think they weren’t going to make full use of the whole Typhoon Bo subplot?) Although I must admit, I would have liked to see less obvious wire-fu in the fight scenes. Wu has proven to be a major talent when it comes to intricately choreographed ass whuppin (see his work in “SPL” for an example), and it’s a bit deflating to see that many of his moves here are artificially exaggerated. Nevertheless, “Legendary Assassin” is at its best when it allows its star to be himself, which invariably involves bouncing across the screen like a human whirlwind of fists and kicks.
Besides a starring turn by Wu, “Legendary Assassin” also features the acting debut of model/musician Celina Jade, a Sandra Bullock clone that, though not spectacular by any stretch, makes the most of a mostly thankless role. The Hiu Wor character is an entirely too fictitious muse, a vehicle for Wu’s Bo to further reveal his inner turmoil as he wrestles with his profession. The script wisely gives Hiu Wor more to do than your average action movie heroine, and her scenes with Bo, though heavily (as in, entirely) predicated on movie logic , nevertheless manages to entertain rather than make one groan with the weight of its sugary nonsense. Sammy Leung, as a fellow cop name Tarzan, is meant to provide comic relief, but is just odious. Since Tarzan has eyes for Hiu Wor, he isn’t taking Bo’s presence, and the fact that Hiu Wor is obviously smitten with him, lying down, which leads to Tarzan being a tool for about a 15-minute stretch as Hiu Wor and Bo fall in love. Yes, it takes about that long for the sappy music and romantic flashbacks to kick in.
Notable supporting turns by the usual Hong Kong crime movie suspects are accounted for, including the always amusing Suet Lam as a Triad footsoldier who really doesn’t do a whole lot except huff and puff from place to place and sweat a lot, but being that Suet Lam is Suet Lam, that’s still pretty funny stuff. Also, Shiu Hung Hui as the local police chief is one of those “you can’t go wrong” casting choices. Japanese actress Noriko Aoyama plays the wife of the deceased Triad boss, who eventually shows up to take matters into her own hands. You can’t really blame the gal, as leaving things up to Suet Lam, in any cinematic incarnation, is an invitation to utter failure. Although Aoyama is quite the fetching villainess (she’s dangerously hot to our leading lady’s righteously cuteness, if you will), one can’t help but notice that she’s a tad too young to be fronting an International criminal syndicate with about a gazillion Triad soldiers at her beck and call. Still, she cuts a fine figure, with or without a sword in the pouring rain, so whose complaining?
If your big question going into “Legendary Assassin” is, “Will this movie satiate my thirst for martial arts ass kickery?” I can safely answer, Yes, it does, indeed. But if you’re wondering, “Is Jacky Wu the next big thing, and will this movie prove it?” I would have to answer, Kinda. While I won’t go so far as to say that “Legendary Assassin” will cement Jacky Wu’s status as an international action star, I can say that it certainly isn’t going to hurt the young man’s chances. For those who have already seen Wu in “Fatal Contact”, we already know that he just looks the part of the next big thing from Hong Kong, and “Assassin” further proves his mettle. Without a doubt, Jacky Wu has the “I’m too cool for you, so don’t even try it” look down pat, and he’s got screen charisma to burn. I expect big things from Wu in the future, and will be greatly disappointed if he doesn’t come through with a signature action movie in the next few years.
Chung Chi Li, Jacky Wu (director) / Chi Keung Fung (screenplay)
CAST: Jacky Wu … Bo
Celina Jade … Hiu Wor
Noriko Aoyama … Madam Ma
Ronald Cheng … Uncle Zhi
Lik-Sun Fong … Handsome Bao
Shiu Hung Hui … Guan Gong
Zhan-Wen Keu … Chairman Ma
Sammy Leung … Tarzan