Legacy of Rage

Director: Ronnie Yu                              
Brandon Lee, Michael Wong, Regina Kent

If you've never seen a Hong Kong actioner before, this is not the one to start off with. As for those who are familiar with such movies, they'll be more accustomed to the directorial style and the plotting. But even they will admit that this isn't a typical or outstanding example of Hong Kong filmmaking. While Legacy of Rage is in no way a terrible movie, it's overall a forgettable movie. In fact, it might not have even appeared on these shores had it not been for the presence of Brandon Lee.

Tai Seng Video, a fledgling video company devoted to Asian movies, recently released this movie to North America. They were thoughtful enough to present this in a letterboxed print (with many Asian movies, you have to see them letterboxed in order to fully get the impact of the action onscreen.) Unfortunately, the print they used for the video transfer is filled with scratches, which both distracts the audience and gives the air of the movie being cheap. (Hong Kong movies may be inexpensive to make, but they usually look like they were made many times more than their actual cost.) Also, the movie is dubbed; now, I am not exactly a purist when it comes to foreign movies, so I don't mind dubbing - as long as the dubbing is reasonably done. With this print of Legacy of Rage, Tai Seng unfortunately used a print that seems to have been made for English-speaking countries in Asia. I've seen other dub jobs for Asian movies in Asia, and they have all been pretty bad dub jobs, including this one. No characters are given voices which seem appropriate to their ages or characters, and lip-synching is non-existent.

Of course, with Brandon Lee being dubbed, it's pretty much impossible to give a critique on his performance. All I can comment about Lee himself is that he both moves and looks good throughout the movie. Part of that comes from having to do all of his own stuntwork - a requirement if you are to be taken seriously by Hong Kong audiences. Lee fans expecting to see him do a lot of martial arts will be disappointed; he doesn't have a lot of action sequences, and much of them involve guns instead of martial arts. It's well known that Lee didn't want to be compared to his famous father, so this may be an explanation for the lack of chop-socky action. In fact, this was Lee's only Hong Kong movie.

Lee plays a young man in Hong Kong with the typical Chinese name of "Brandon". Life for him in Hong Kong is good, despite having to work several jobs and having to fight off the occasional thug at a nightclub (one thug is played by Bolo Yeung in a cameo.) Brandon is in love with his girlfriend, who adores him in return, and they plan to marry soon. This has caught the eye of his best friend Michael, who secretly covets Brandon's girlfriend. It so happens at the same time that Michael and the rest of his gangster family are deciding to kill off a greedy member of their mob. Michael then executes a plan that frames and imprisons Brandon in jail for several years. When Brandon gets out..., it doesn't quite go as you are thinking. As well, the pacing and detailing of the above synopsis isn't quite as you think, either. So the movie doesn't quite stick to a formula, but I don't know whether to cheer or be let down by this. For example, take the scene where there's a flashback to where Brandon and his girlfriend met for the first time. It's a nice scene, but this flashback does nothing for the plot nor bringing any further insight to the characters. Also, there is an unusual amount of time showing Brandon in prison, part of it devoted to an escape attempt that goes nowhere and has no direct or indirect consequences to what's ahead. Some other attempts to show how the characters change over time are better handled, but these attempts usually go on for too long. These segments and other detours as a result bog down the pacing. It's interesting that although the movie's length is about average, the slower pacing makes the movie feel longer. Although we are never extremely bored, and the movie is never bad enough to be annoying, we keep telling the movie to get on with it, for we want to see Brandon kick butt.

Eventually, Brandon does kick butt in the last 20 minutes of the movie. And I will say this for the movie - until the disappointing final man-to-man fight, this part of the movie is great. From a fight in a chicken barn, high speed chases with BMWs, and a whopping amount of ammo fired, the action is non-stop and doesn't disappoint. This scene does, unfortunately, have a consequence - it doesn't seem to fit with the previous 70 or so minutes, including the action that we saw before. You could almost swear the climax is from another movie.

I've only seen three other Ronny Yu movies, The Bride With White Hair (great), The Bride With White Hair 2 (dull), and Warriors of Virtue (an interesting failure). From seeing four of his movies, he seems to be a director who puts the visual look and style of a movie at first priority, and then the success or failure of the rest of the movie depends on how strong his script is. Because of the lackluster script, it seems that Yu had no idea on how to salvage the movie. The movie looks pretty, especially the night scenes, filled with neon colors and lights. The sound, however, is horrible; though Yu couldn't probably do a thing about the lousy dubbing, he could have done something about the cheesy electronic score or the fact that this score suddenly stops several times for no reason at all during the course of the film. Viewers studying the films of Yu might find some interest in the movie, as well as any die-hard fans of Brandon Lee. For others, though, Legacy of Rage will probably be a disappointment, especially the more unreceptive they are to Hong Kong cinema.

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See also: The Stranger, The Annihilators, Bloodfist 3