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The latest release from Hong Kong Legends takes its premise from the legends surrounding the Wing Chun form of martial arts. Directed by the great Yuen Woo-ping, action director of films such as The Matrix, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Kill Bill, and starring action superstars Donnie Yen and Michelle Yeoh, the film takes a light-hearted approach to the subject matter. I was slightly disappointed with the presentation of Hong Kong Legends’ previous release, Heart of the Dragon, and I was hoping that this releases of Wing Chun would completely restore my faith in the label.

Wing Chun
Film
Yim Wing Chun (Michelle Yeoh) is the daughter of an elderly tofu seller, who uses her extraordinary martial arts abilities to protect her village from a group of marauding bandits. However, Wing Chun’s skills are both a blessing and a curse. While her martial arts ability is of great benefit to the village, the local men are threatened by her unnatural prowess, believing her too masculine to ever be considered marriage material.

Things begin to change with the arrival of the beautiful, recently widowed Yim Neung (Catherine Hung Yan). Saved from the bandits by Wing Chun, Neung goes to work in the tofu store as the new ‘tofu beauty’ under the supervision of Wing Chun’s Auntie, known as ‘Acid Tongue’ Fong because of her foul disposition and even fouler breath. Enter Leung Pak Tou, a mysterious visitor from a distant land who has come in search of Wing Chun. Many years have passed since Pak Tou and Wing Chun were childhood sweethearts, leading to a case of mistaken identity that convinces him that Neung is actually Wing Chun!

The rest of the film is essentially a series of fast-paced action sequences punctuated by the occasional comedic interlude, as Wing Chun goes up against the bandits while trying to fend off the advances of numerous unsuitable suitors (including the leader of the bandits himself). Of course, the outcome is predictably happy, but at least you’ll have a lot of fun along the way.

Wing Chun
I read beforehand that the film doesn’t actually feature a lot of Wing Chun style, and this is something echoed by Donnie Yen elsewhere on the disc. However, not being a martial arts exponent myself, I can safely say that it didn’t impact on my enjoyment of the action scenes. There’s plenty of Yuen Woo-ping’s trademark wire-work, which is utilised to great effect during a battle in which the combatants dual whilst standing on a spear that has been embedded in a wall.

Hong Kong audiences seem to have a completely different sense of humour to the average UK viewer, and while the comedic elements of the film occasionally went a little too far I was happy enough for the most part. The film actually features more than its share of subtle sexual innuendo, which works a little better than the childish ‘slapstick’ humour (at least for me).

Video
Wing Chun arrives with a very pleasing anamorphic 1.78:1 transfer, which compares favourably with some of the label’s better efforts. Although sharpness and level of detail are somewhat below the very best the format can offer the transfer renders accurate, natural colours, with particularly impressive flesh tones (at least for the most part). Film artefacts are infrequent, which is always a bonus when dealing with Hong Kong titles, and although grain is more conspicuous than I would like, it never becomes too distracting. Black levels are also consistently impressive, if slightly more variable than one would expect from a modern release. However, given the age and origins of the source material it’s fair to say that this is another good effort from the guys and gals at Hong Kong Legends.

Wing Chun
Audio
As is usual for their releases, Hong Kong Legends provide Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks in both the original Cantonese and dubbed English. However, as anyone that’s read my previous HKL reviews will know, I steer well clear of the dreaded dubs. I was very surprised by the Dolby 5.1 track on this disc, but thankfully it was a pleasant surprise. In the past I’ve criticised the 5.1 tracks on HKL discs for being little more than glorified stereo, and it seems that the label has taken the comments on board (although I’d like to make it clear that I’m not claiming it was as a direct result of my whinging). Believe it or not, Wing Chun has, wait for it, surround sound!

Before you get too carried away it’s worth pointing out that this ‘rear action’ rarely, if ever, extends beyond the score. However, the score has a hell of lot more presence than on most HKL releases, and it does an excellent job of generating just the right kind of ambience throughout. As for the rest of the mix, well it’s what you’d expect really. Dialogue is perfectly clear throughout, residing firmly at the front and centre of the soundstage, while the various effects are all as over the top as usual. To round things off nicely there’s even a little more bass than usual! All in all this is one of the better tracks I’ve heard on a Hong Kong Legends release.

Extras
We begin with the de rigour commentary from Bey Logan. I’m actually getting fairly bored with writing about Bey’s commentaries, primarily because of the consistently high standards he manages to maintain. I’m longing for the day when he shambles into the studio, completely unprepared, and proceeds to bumble his way through a film in much the same way Tim Burton stumbled through his Planet of the Apes effort. At least that would allow me to use words other than ‘excellent’ and ‘informative’. Unfortunately it hasn’t happened, and both of the aforementioned adjectives are applicable to this track.

Wing Chun
Next up we have a couple of interviews, the first of which is entitled Kicking Up A Storm and focuses on co-star Donnie Yen. The interview runs for around fifteen minutes, and in that time Donnie discusses topics such as the lack of Wing Chun in a film called Wing Chun, his respect and admiration for Michelle Yeoh, some of the difficulties with shooting and choreographing the various fight sequences (specifically the nocturnal horseback sequence), and much more. This is an interesting piece that is made all the more accessible by the fact that Donnie speaks English.

Interview number two is entitled Warrior King and features the film’s main ‘baddie’, Tsui Siu-keung. Conducted in Chinese and running slightly longer than Donnie’s interview at seventeen minutes, Tsui discusses his previous career as an accountant, his participation in a Shaw Brothers’ acting workshop (which led to three years in various non-speaking roles), his big break working with Lau Kar-leung, his impressive training regime, and much more. Tsui comes across as a pretty vain character, but were I to look that good at fifty-two I’d probably be fairly proud of it as well. It does take him around five minutes to get into discussing the film, but once he does there’s plenty of interesting information on offer on everything from Yuen Woo-ping to the difficulties of fighting while balanced precariously on a spear!

The only other features on the disc are trailers. Both the theatrical and UK promotional trailers are included, along with the usual assortment of previews for Hong Kong Legends and Premier Asia titles. These are fine for what they are, but I’d have liked another featurette to pad things out a little.

Overall
Wing Chun is the latest Hong Kong movie to take me by surprise. I was expecting plenty of fast-paced martial arts action, and I certainly got that, but I didn’t anticipate the presence of the romantic or comedic elements. On balance I think it occasionally strayed too far into the realm of the farcical, but at least this made a pleasant change from the more serious films of this ilk. On the plus side, I really enjoyed the action scenes, and was amazed with the skill demonstrated by all involved. Martial arts purists could well be disappointed with the lack of any real Wing Chun style in a film called Wing Chun, but as I don’t know my Wing Chun from my Chun Li I remained blissfully ignorant.

Wing Chun
The disc itself represents another solid release from Hong Kong Legends. Audio-visual quality is superior to most of the recent titles I’ve had in for review, and while the extras are a bit thin on the ground the quality of the interviews and the Bey Logan commentary go a long way towards compensating. This is an easy purchase for fans of the film and Hong Kong flicks in general, and while the casual viewer might like to ‘try before they buy’ I’d recommend Wing Chun to those looking for a an accessible introduction to Hong Kong cinema.


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