Last Hero in China (1993)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2006-02-26
“Last Hero in China” is Wong Jing at his best. Many of the comedy scenes are actually funny, the comic relief characters don’t wear out their welcome after 90 seconds and there are plenty of beautiful women and a legion of rapacious monks—although these monks are actually Boxers in disguise. There isn’t any onscreen vomiting/defecation/urination or at least none that I can recall. The Wong Jing portion of the movie, the part that features bucktoothed sidekicks, hot mamasans and a pimp looking for respect hang together quite well.

There are a few difficulties with the collaboration among Gordon Liu, Jet Li and Yuen Wo-Ping, due almost completely to the undercranking of many of Jet Li’s fight scenes. The speeded up action is unnecessary and intrusive. We watched a lot of the fights at half speed which showed much of the detail very well. It is one thing to help out Sharla Cheung by shooting her kung fu battles at less than 24 frames per second and quite another when Jet Li and Gordon Liu are fighting. More importantly, though, are the action scenes that work, especially a terrific Lion Dance that is interrupted by an invading Centipede, the last battle between Jet Li and Gordon Liu in which Li resorts to drunken boxing and the scene in which Dicky Chen (Ah So) and Leung Kar-Yan (Leung Fu) finally perfect their Crane/Flying Tiger move.

The two Lion Dances were joys to watch. The main one had the Wong Fei Hung’s entire school collaborating in a pyramid dance with Wong in the main lion jumping on the backs of his student lions to grab the bait. Things where going well until a very well constructed and lethal centipede invaded the grounds, slashing with sharp knives protruding from each segment, surrounding the hapless lions and finally seizing the bait. Wong Fei Hung while in self-imposed exile in the country watched a rooster dispatch a centipede using its claws and beak and returned to the fray in a rooster suit, complete with metal beak and claws. It sounds more stupid than it looked although at first glance it was a real “What the f***” moment. Thank goodness that the Funky Chicken Kung Fu didn’t catch on. Everyone in this town has a lion costume and everyone dances. There is a lighthearted and funny confrontation between the Wong’s students practicing with their lion costume and the one that the prostitutes in the house next door bring out—“A girl lion” to everyone’s shock and delight.

LHiC is full of references to the “Once Upon a Time in China” franchise—Aunt Yee sends her regrets to Wong Fei Hung in the very first scene for example. There are a few Wong Jing touches, such as Nat Chan as the seemingly indestructible pimp Mass Tar (!). At one point Mass Tar who has been beaten almost to death and is being dragged to where Wong Fei Hong is hiding is told not to divulge the secret he has overheard because in the movies the guy always dies after he tells the important secret.

At first glance this movie has everything necessary for a schlockfest. Wong both wrote the script and directed it, a combination that has had unfortunate results in the past. He was making a sequel/prequel to work done by someone he was feuding with and while settling scores can be fun, especially when you have the money and power to do it onscreen, it generally doesn’t make for riveting cinema. The movie itself is an amalgam of action, low comedy, heroic tales and Chinese nationalism—something for just about everyone which often means it is unsatisfying in any of its aspects. One of the main reasons that “Last Hero in China” worked was that Jet Li played everything quite straight. He had a few funny lines, such as when the pimp kept pleading with Wong Fei Hung to take him as a student he finally said at one point, “And what should I call you—Master (Mass Tar)?” and some good reactions when the prostitutes from the nearby brothel came on to him. Generally, though, he took himself out of the picture when it was time for the comedy to begin. In one Wong told Ah So and Leung Fu to lock up because he was going out for several hours, which would be like modern day parents leaving the car keys and a couple of six packs for their teenaged sons.

Wong Jing is obviously a skilled filmmaker who has directed, produced or acted in more movies than most people have seen. He is always capable to getting things just right but often seems too busy or just not sufficiently interested to nail down the details. In this case he made either a comedy with some excellent actions scenes or an action movie with some funny comedy scenes but in either case it is worth seeing.

One detail that he dealt with in the script but that makes no sense at all from the point of view of the characters involved is the Yin Er’s abandonment of her sister. She and her father have searched unceasingly for a two and one half years to find the unfortunate girl who had been carried away by the phony monks. They have endured privation and torture and have come close to being killed several times. But at one point Yin Er embraces Miss Nine and says it is like hugging her sister and then a bit later says that the world is too wide to continue searching—that she has found a substitute sibling. It makes everything Yen Er and her father have done so far meaningless and probably would have been better done if it was simply left up in the air and not resolved. But that is a minor quibble.
Reviewer Score: 7