The Avenging Fist (2001)
Wheeeeeeeeeee! What a fun movie! Like a rollercoaster or a heart attack, Avenging Fist grabs you by the collar and whisks you all around and up and down and leaves you kind of breathless at the end. I have to admit I was quite prepared for the worst before watching the movie, which doubtless contributed to me actually enjoying it so much. Andrew Lau & Corey Yuen are not directors who are exactly known for well developed characters or coherent plots, but I found that Avenging Fist was above average on both counts. I found the story quite intriguing - somewhat convoluted and/or contrived, yes - but in a fun way. Characters may not be quite 3 Dimensional but do at least have personality enough that I cared for them, and the actors are quite believable in their roles. It's definitely Wang Lee-Hom's movie overall, and I thought he did a pretty good job for his first role. Stephen Fung probably gave the best performance though, although Cecilia Yip was really good as Lee-Hom & Kristy Yeung's stern but sexy mother too.
Actually, it's probably less Wang Lee-Hom's movie than it is the special effects' movie. Like Legend Of Zu, THE AVENGING FIST shows that Hong Kong has really got its head around CGI, and can give Hollywood/Industrial Light And Magic a good run for their money. The effects here are much better than in X-Men, for instance, and there are much much more of them. Must be over 50% of shots are at least CGI enhanced, sometimes completely CG dominated. I'm a sucker for special effects, I have to say, and the swirling twirling pulsing glowing explosions of... stuff... that fills the fight scenes in particular had me positively drooling. Editing and cinematography and effects are used extensively to give the fights their feel and impact. Almost exclusively in fact - in the couple of shots where they don't surround the actors in myriad effects, it's quite clear that they're just swinging their arms around. Add in the CG though, and you've got fights of the kind of scale no wuxia movie ever dreamed of.
I know the movie's come in for a lot of flak - everybody seems to have had some expectation or other that it failed to meet. Maybe it's because I work in computer game development that I can appreciate the talent & beauty of a really nice special effects sequence, but I think it's a shame that so many people are going to say "oh, it's just CG" and dismiss it. I'm sure people will find plenty of other reasons to hate it too (Yuen Biao-philes will probably want to blame the fact that he's crap here on the movie rather than him/his age, for instance). But buggr'em...
Sure, it's not a perfect movie - if I were a Disney executive looking to change the movie around a bit, I would trim pretty much any shot in a fight scene without CGI, and streamline the last couple of reels by removing a bunch of dialogue/melodrama/schmalz and making the final fight about 5 times longer. Leaving the rest of the soundtrack/dialogue/subtitles intact though, I would happily release it on a US public with a million dollar advertising campaign, and sit back and watch the multiplexes fill up. Are you listening Disney? Here's your chance!