Last Hero In China: Choreography

If Last Hero in China’s director, producer and writer, Wong Jing, is the master of inventive crassness, then its choreographer, Yuen Wu Ping, is the master of inventive elegance. In this movie Yuen continues his frequent collaboration with that most elegant of martial arts performers, Jet Li (who plays Wong Fei Hung). Yuen and Li have to be in silly mode for this film, but they still construct some lovely moments. “(Yuen)… has choreographed some battles that are as visually and pugilistically exciting as anything Wong Fei-hung has hitherto experienced.” Paul Fonoroff, At the Hong Kong Movies, p. 291

The first fight is fun – Yuen has assigned himself the creative task of responding choreographically to the challenge of Wong Fei Hung having to fight 3 assailants without damaging a bouquet of flowers he is holding. I also like the Lion Dance scene early in the movie where a lion inhabited by Wong’s students from Po Chi Lam is shown canoodling with the lion inhabited by prostitutes from the brothel next door. This is a clever way for the filmmakers to create a sexy atmosphere without showing anything that will put this film in the wrong classification.*

Last Hero in China is notable as it features the only pairing of the legendary Gordon Liu (as the head priest of a corrupt and depraved order) with Jet Li. I actually wish Liu’s character had been given more screen time. His big fight scene with Wong Fei Hung takes place in a marvelously fantastic set and has some fun elements – I enjoy the way Liu keeps appearing and disappearing into the dark behind his cloak, and the giant red floating lotus prop looks great. But I find the choreography to be overly dominated by wire fu. Gordon spends too much time floating and not enough time fighting with Li. An opportunity to see 2 of the martial arts film genre’s great performers moving together has been sadly underutilized.

The final stages of the film sees Jet Li dressed as a giant chook fighting a giant centipede (equipped with flame thrower) powered by a team of Lion dancers. This is surely the stupidest fight scene Li has ever participated in and maybe one of the silliest fight scenes in the genre. When watching his films, I can never shake the feeling that Wong Jing likes to make his audience cringe. But the performers execute Yuen’s inventive choreography with gusto. Li struts to good effect and strikes some lovely roosterish poses. Even if secured by wires, the guys inside the giant centipede perform some pretty amazing synchronized acrobatics. This is important to note – even at their silliest many kung fu films still seriously invest in skill, energy and resources. This is a compliment to us viewers. We are not asked to just sit with a whacky notion, but are treated to the pleasure of watching even a crazy idea that has been developed into a dynamic set piece, underpinned by real expertise and talent.  

For me the standout piece of choreography in the film is the final duel between Li and Alan Chui Chung San – I simply love it. It features Li doing drunken boxing and I could watch him do this for hours. It makes the cringe making moments in this film well worth sitting through – Yuen and Li redeem themselves for going in this movie with this single fight. Li and his opponent perform Yuen’s super graceful and creative choreography with aplomb (even though there are wince inducing moments when poor old Wong Fei Hung gets his toesies crushed – ouch!). But lest we forget that this film is being played strictly for laughs this display of virtuosic elegance is briskly finished off with its final manouevre looking as if it has been lifted out of a rock and roll wrestling tournament.

The next blog I will post continues to discuss drunken boxing in this and a few other kung fu movies I have seen.

* Another Jet Li film with a flirty, sexy Lion dance is Kids from Shaolin (http://dangerousmeredith.wordpress.com/2010/02/25/funny-buisness-in-kids-from-shaolin/). Please read this blog – I am rather proud of it.

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14 Responses to Last Hero In China: Choreography

  1. This is one of my favorite Jet Li films. I think many don’t understand that it’s a comedy more than anything else, making fun of many martial arts films. The final fight is fantastic, and Jet has a great Drunken Fist form, but I still think that Jackie Chan is still the best at it. Woo Ping’s choreography wins again. Can we now just say he’s the best fight choreographer of all time?

    Great post, DM!

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    • Yuen Wu Ping is surely a master choreographer. Not just as a fight choreographer, but choreographer full stop. I actually prefer Li’s drunken fist to Chan’s but this is just a personal preference. The aesthetics of these 2 performers’ way of moving is quite different – it’s like trying to compare a well done steak to a rose. I love Drunken Master, and Chan’s performance in it, very much though. It’s a great virtuoso turn.

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    • sbongiseni says:

      yeah its a great movie indeed. i think its by far the best wong fei hung movie other than the once upon a time in china series. i love the final showdown between wong fei hung and lui fai. its kinda similar to to that of once upon a time in china 1(where wong takes on iron robe yim). even the settting, both these films’ final scenes took place in a store room. if you know the movie “Fist From Shaolin”, its also another wong fei hung movie, the final scene here also takes place in a store room, where wong came to rescue his fellow chinese from being sold to america as slaves.

      These are the kinds of wong fei hung films i realy like, where he takes on an antagonist powerful as he is despite the fact that he prevails at the end of the day. i dnt realy care about the violance but i love the action, the way the move, the expressions in their bodies. eg antagonists as:
      iron robe yim in once upon a time in china 1
      commander lan in once upon a time in china 2
      officer lui fai in last hero in china
      prefect wu in fist from shaolin.
      the way i love the choreography in these films im even finding it hard to compare these villians on who’s realy the best, ie who realy gives wong fei hung a run for his money

      these antagonists fights with wong are not just about justice (as wong usually fights to bring peace and justice to his people) but more about their pride, they fight to show who realy is the best martial artist. example are;
      Iron Robe Yim in OUTIC 1, he wanted to establish a school of his own and in order for him to do that, he went head on to Po Chi Lam to challange wong fei hung so that the entire village would know that he is the best. also remember in their 2nd round he said “only 1 of us will leave here alive”
      Commander Lan in OUTIC 2, he took on wong fei hung jokingly wth his bamboo stick, testing him. they were both evenly matched. the 2nd time, which was the final scene, just like iron robe yim, he said “after tonight one of us is gonna be dead”…and also, he said words such as “wong fei hung come on down here and fight”.
      Lui Fai in Last Hero In China when he said well i will represent your father to punish you”
      last but not least its Prefect Wu in Fist from Shaolin, its also in the final scene, he said “wong fei hung, you claim to be the master shaolin boxing, so come and fight for your people. prove it to me that you are indeed a hero.

      If you read or listen attentively to the quoted words above by these antagonists, you’ll understand that the fights were to sooth one’s ego which is what makes these movies great
      we all know that wong does not practice martial arts for fame and glory, and he also does not like showing off his skills but when you get to watch the above mentioned films then sure you can see that he, too, gets to a point where he reminds people that he is the best.
      here are some examples;
      OUTIC 1, where he tells Yim “win or loose, its just a game”
      OUTIC 2, against General Lan “i thought you wanted to challenge me, so come down here and fight”
      Last Hero In China against Offcer Lui, he goes “you have asked me before what sort of fist am i playing, now im going to tell you”….and he even goes on telling him names of every fist he throws (drunken disciples of God,drunken crane and his continous swinging punches, the drunken tiger that catches the wolf)…he even ends up rubbing it under his nose where he tells Lui that he seldom drinks wine because he never stops giving heavy punches whenever he’s drunk.
      Fist From Shoalin, he tells everyone not to interfere. this is between him and the Prefect (Wu). they have to settle this down once and for all.

      Unlike OUTIC 3,4,5 and 6,where he faces some ordinary ruthless villians and cruel foreigners who wants to take over from china. however in OUTIC 3 things would have been a bit different if Tsui Hark extended the role of Clubfoot as an evil antagonist, that would take on Wong on a climatic showdown maybe in the last scene of the Film. if OUTIC 3 was plotted that way, i personally think it would have probably been better that the 1st two installments.

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    • Joseph Kuby says:

      I agree. A lot of people don’t realize that Jing’s movies are meant to be comedies with action in them as opposed to action movies which contain moments of comedy.

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  2. sbongiseni says:

    what i would like to know is what if there wasnt any wine in that room. what would have happened? would have wong fei hung defeated lui fai since he broke his toes trying to execute the ‘no-shadow kick’?

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    • I don’t know what would have happened! All I know is that every time I see poor old Wong Fei Hung’s toesies get crushed I cringe – it makes my skin crawl. I think this is just an excuse to get Jet Li doing some drunken boxing. He just looks so graceful when he’s doing drunken boxing (also does it in his first Shaolin movie)

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  3. sbongiseni says:

    was wong fei hung realy drunk here or he was just toying with lui fai. i mean if you look at the very last scene of their fight after defeatng him when lui fai is on his knees crying, wong suddenly turns sober. (where he says to him “laugh now!”)

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  4. sbongiseni says:

    follow this link http://youtu.be/6wDmaG-BS4Q. thats thats another wong fei hung movie, Fist From Shaolin. hope you enjoy it

    oh by the way, are you on facebook?

    Like

  5. sbongiseni says:

    wong fei hung: you have asked me before, what kind of fist am i playing, well now im going to tell you

    lui fai: hahahahaa isnt it the lui tung bun’s fist?!

    wong fei hung: no! its the drunken disciples of God
    …….what kind of stand is it?

    lui fai: its han’s flute

    wong fei hung: wrong! its the drunken crane, continous swinging punches

    lui fai: wrong again! (breaks post)

    [and the fightng continues]
    wong fei hung: i seldom drink wine, because i cant stop giving heavy punches if i get drunk

    lui fai: hahahaha realy!
    [wong throws him with some of his powerful Hung Gar fists]

    lui fai: your punch is not heavy

    wong fei hung: drunken tiger to catch on wolf!

    lui fai: are you drunk or not!!!

    wong fei hung: its not the matter of being drunk or not

    lui fai: hahaha drunken fist, great!

    wong fei hung: you look awful, i want to make you cry

    i love this movie 😀

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  6. Thanks for leaving all of your great comments Joseph. It is so encouraging to me when people read my blogs.

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