Corey Yuen's The Legend of Fong Sai-Yuk 2 [Fong Sai Yuk Juk Jaap] isn't the most well-known 90s Hong Kong martial arts flick, even though the first one received plenty of accolades. I'm not quite sure why this sequel never made as big of an impact, but I remember being pretty stoked to track this down after seeing the first one, and not being disappointed in the slightest by it. That was more than 15 years ago though, so I was eager to give the Fong Sai-Yuk sequel another whirl, especially since my rewatches of other 90s Hong Kong classics have been very fruitful.
This film was shot back to back with the first one, which no doubt explains the similarities between the two. With actors being tied up in multiple projects per year and competition being really stern around that time, it made sense to shoot and release these films close together. Watching them now, it's probably better to leave some time in between, to avoid everything becoming just one big blob of samey martial arts mementos. Not that this second part doesn't have its share of memorable moments, but it is very much a 90s Hong Kong martial arts flick in just about every way imaginable.
Corey Yuen is one of the pivotal figures in the success of these types of films. Like Woo-ping Yuen, Corey Yuen isn't that great a director, but he is an outstanding virtuoso action choreographer. And the best way to make sure his work wouldn't drown in narratives bogging down the action, was to actually direct the entire movie rather than just the action scenes. The two Yuens were pretty lucky that their film crews were so accustomed to making these films, that they could offload a lot of the usual directorial tasks to them. What that gets you is quality genre film making, with innovation where it matters: the martial arts sequences.
The plot is fairly simplistic, even though there are quite a few moving parts. Fong Sai-Yuk and his wife are leaving their hometown to join their friends of the underground Red Flower Society, who are trying to overthrow the Manchurian emperor and reestablish the Ming Dynasty. Not everyone in the society is happy to see Fong join, as some feel threatened by his presence. Meanwhile, Fong's duties force him to seduce a woman, hoping to retrieve critical documents that may upset the order in the Red Flower Society, something Fong's wife isn't too happy about. The essence though is that Fong is facing all kinds of enemies, and he needs to kick their butt.
If you're familiar with late 80s/early 90s Hong Kong martial arts and/or fantasy cinema, then you know what to expect from the visuals. Dynamic camera work, a brown, red and blue color palette, Dutch angles and snappy editing are royally employed to give the film a truly energetic feel, simultaneously masking the more implausible martial arts techniques. It's a style I adore and one that looks pretty refined considering the pace of shooting and the limited budgets available to make these films. High art it is not though, so your mileage may vary.
The soundtrack is little more than an afterthought, or at the very least an obligatory requirement. The film sounds exactly like so many others in the genre. Traditional Chinese music is used to help establish the setting, overstated sound effects add to the action scenes, easing the flow of the martial arts moves and increasing their impact. It's not necessarily a bad soundtrack, it's certainly effective enough, but as with most of these films, I have to do some retracing when I'm actually writing these reviews, as the soundtrack leaves no impression whatsoever.
As always, the acting in these films is a bit trickier to critique. For one, Hong Kong comedy is definitely an acquired taste, so the funny bits will either be charming, or will annoy no end. Actors like Jet Li, Michelle Reis or Chunhua Ji also won't win any prizes for their dramatic performances, but when it comes to the action scenes, they shine all the brighter. '93 was a prime period in Jet Li's career, and you don't look to have further than this film to see why. Though Corey Yuen certainly deserves to share the glory, it's Li who is the true star of Fong Sai-Yuk 2.
The Legend of Fong Sai-Yuk 2, even more so than the first film, is genre work of the purest kind. It's a film for fans of martial arts cinema, who love impressive and creative fight choreographies and aren't too worried about any irregularities in plot or even internal logical. There's a surprisingly high amount of distinct action scenes, and they all feel very deliberately styled and executed. The film as a whole doesn't really attempt to distinguish itself too much from its peers, instead Corey Yuen is fully committed to the execution and only cares about doing the genre justice.
The early 90s are one of the prime eras of Hong Kong martial arts cinema, something that's becoming increasingly clear as I rewatch more and more of these classics. They rarely disappoint, and Fong Sai-Yuk 2 is no exception. Not only are the dynamic camera work, spirited performances and insanely choreographed action scenes a pleasure to behold, there's also not an ounce of fat to the film. If you don't care for action cinema than this is a film that can be easily skipped, if not, it's one of the unmissable classics that should probably get a solid priority bump on your watch list.