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  Legend of Wisely Wisely by name, wily by nature
Year: 1987
Director: Teddy Robin Kwan
Stars: Sam Hui, Ti Lung, Joey Wong, Teddy Robin Kwan, Oh Yau-Lun, Bruce Baron, Heidi Makinen, Blackie Ko Sau-Leung, Lee Hoi-Hing, Paolo Tocha, Wellington Fung Wing, Kim Fan
Genre: Action, Martial Arts, Science Fiction, Fantasy, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 1 vote)
Review: Created by prolific pulp author Ngai Hong, Wai Si Lei - a.k.a. Wisely, or Wesley as he is sometimes called - is a daredevil adventurer, scholar, science fiction author and expert on all things paranormal whose big screen exploits include the superb all-star jungle horror epic The Seventh Curse (1986), all-action-fest Bury Me High (1991), schlock masterpiece The Cat (1992) and disastrous CGI-fest The Wesley’s Mysterious File (2002). However, the sprawling, mega-budget Legend of Wisely stands as Hong Kong’s equivalent to the groundbreaking Hollywood blockbusters of the Eighties.

Mysterious billionaire Howard Hope (Bruce Baron) enlists Wisely (Sam Hui) to locate missing treasure hunter David Ko (Teddy Robin Kwan), who was the latter’s childhood friend. It transpires David is on the trail of a powerful artefact: the Dragon Pearl, which Wisely reluctantly helps him steal from a Tibetan monastery guarded by kung fu monks and a five year old prophet (Oh Yau-Lun) with E.S.P. superpowers. After David fakes his death in an airplane crash and absconds with the pearl, Wisely realises his mistake and promises the boy messiah he will retrieve their sacred object. Back in Hong Kong, Wisely discovers David deciphering its secrets for wealthy gangster Pak Wei (kung fu icon Ti Lung), but persuades his lovely sister Sue (Joey Wong, star of A Chinese Ghost Story (1987)) to help him return the pearl to its rightful owners. But the ruthless Hope wants the pearl for his own enigmatic ends.

With an all-star cast, big stunts, ambitious special effects and expensive locations - Egypt, Kathmandu and the Himalayas - sumptuously photographed by Academy Award winner Peter Pau (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)), Legend of Wisely was one of the most lavish HK productions of its era. Though the plot parallels the Wong Jing science fiction adventure Magic Crystal (1986), diminutive Cantopop idol-turned-director Teddy Robin Kwan crafts his opus with greater care. Working with star/producer Sam Hui, their efforts yielded an enduring classic. Obviously modelled on Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), the film maintains a similar breakneck pace laced with wit and invention. The twist laden story keeps viewers on their toes while the characters are all lively and engaging, with more depth than usual. Even the villains are sympathetic.

Cracking martial arts sequences make full use of Sam Hui’s athleticism and the talents of Shaw Brothers veteran Ti Lung, who - in spite of an ill-advised Steven Seagal ponytail - does a fine job with a rare ambiguous role, switching from conflicted villain to good guy. Beautiful Joey Wong, at that time the busiest actress in HK cinema, is given a great intro at the Pak siblings high-tech hideout where she shakes off her white ninja gear. She and Sam Hui engage in some winning flirty banter as they trek across the Sahara, dropping in-joke allusions to Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and Hui’s own status as a Cantopop star. The stunts are also mounted on a big scale, including Hui’s amazing leap from a plane into some raging rapids, a car chase involving a machinegun toting motorcycle stunt team, and a jaw-dropping scene where five year old Oh Yau-Lun rides a dirt-bike through the crowded Nepalese streets. For real!

Science fiction elements come into play for the wild finale that, again rather like Magic Crystal, draws Erich von Daeniken style links between extraterrestrial beings and ancient civilisations. Howard Hope dons a super-suit that endows him with incredible strength and pyrokinetic powers, before the climax brings on a spectacular spaceship/robot dragon that still wows audiences to this day.

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Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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