NYAFF 2022: Legendary in Action!

Directed by: Justin Cheung
Distributed by: TBA

Written by Patrick Hao

49/100

There is an enormous pleasure to be found in the low-budget aesthetic of the Hong Kong wuxia movies of the 1970s and 1980s. Studios like Shaw Brothers were able to make low-budget action-adventure films at a low budget and fast pace giving it a je nais se quoi that is not easily replicable. The modern-day Hong Kong cinema is struggling with capturing that quality as it begins to model itself on Hollywood. Big-budget and massive-scale films are in vogue. 

You can see that tension in character actor Justin Cheung’s ode to 1970s filmmaking “Legendary in Action!” Cheung, himself, has found himself in many films trying to capture the silliness and essence of 1970s wuxia but just cannot due to its big budget (looking at you, “Dynasty Warriors”). Cheung, who both directs and stars in the film, Bill “Tiger” Cheung, a once-promising director stuck making “titty films” that are meant to titillate rather than being actual art. His personal life has also taken a hit as he takes his lack of enthusiasm for his work home to his pregnant wife. His real passion project is to remake Seven Star Sword, a fictional martial arts series that Tiger watched as a child, going back to what made him fall in love with cinema in the first place.

In order to do so, it requires getting a budget from unscrupulous financiers and finding a misfit crew of actors such as a waitress without acting experience who looks like one of the original actors (Wiyona Yeung) and a young pop idol with no acting experience chosen because he is marketable to younger audiences. The stars seemingly align when Tiger runs into the elderly Master Dragon (played by real-life wuxia legend Chen Kuan-tai), who was the star of the original Seven Star Sword, but whose mental deterioration is making it harder for him to distinguish between fiction and reality. 

The results of this motley crew are something akin to “Dolemite is My Name” or “Ed Wood” which is always a pleasurable experience for movie lovers. The antics amount to hijinks which don’t quite meld well with some of the sentimentality that comes in the second half. The root of that, unfortunately, comes from the fact that Cheung is not the most compelling lead in the film. As a lifelong character actor, his chance to star in a film exposes him as someone who is not necessarily the most compelling actor, which makes it less believable that his director character would have the charisma to rally his crew.

Cheung’s direction does not leave much to be desired as well. He does nothing remarkable with the behind-the-scenes drama nor does he evoke the stylistic flourishes of the film he is paying homage to. But the nostalgia of a filmmaking style that is slowly being lost is easy to like. As a film lover and a lover of wuxia, even a mediocre movie about the behind-the-scenes is going to elicit joy. 

It is clear that Cheung is making a film out of passion and love, and maybe a little bit of disdain for the industry he is currently in. It is unfortunate that the final product does not necessarily match his obvious enthusiasm.

“Legendary in Action!” Trailer

“Legendary in Action!” was screened as part of the 2022 edition of the New York Asian Film Festival.

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