Legendary Fok

Reviewed by: spcnet

November 05, 2003

Rating: four

Length: 20 episodes

"Legendary Fok" will always hold a special place in my heart as it was the very first HK TV series that I have seen when I was a kid. Sentimentals put aside though, "Legendary" really is a great series with a good plot, good actors/actresses, and many, many great fight scenes. Starring Wong Yuen Sun, Michelle Mai Shuet, Bruce Leung Siu Lung, and Ngai Chow Wah, "Legendary" retells the story of Chen Zhen's master, Fok Yuen Gap, who was one of China's great historical martial arts figures.

I've recently rewatched this series when I happened to have found it on VCD. I was both surprised and delighted that ATV (then known as RTV) is also coming out with their old series on VCD since I think many of their old series are also worthy of rewatching.

Summary: (Spoilers)
Set in the tumultous pre-Opium War period, China was called the "Sickman of the East" and was described as a giant lion sleeping, unbeknownst that both internal and external conflicts were causing its national crisis. It were heroic figures like Fok Yuen Gap and Chen Zhen who played a key role in China's gradual awakening and sense of nationalism.

"Legendary" begins its story introducing two rival families, the Fok and the Chiu (Zhao) Family, at a village. The heads of these two families were once part of the same clan (Bei Zhong Fist) but because of differences of what should be the "correct" kungfu path to follow, they split the clan into Fok and Chiu divisions.

Fok Yuen Gap (Wong Yuen Sun) was one of three sons in the Fok family but because he was weak as a child, his father forbade him to practice martial arts and made him study books instead. Fok Yuen Gap, however, was very interested in learning kungfu and would always pretend to read near the training area despite being chastised. His revolutionary belief is that all martial arts shouldn't be constrained by clan separations. He believes that every clan's martial art have its good advantages and by merging and using all these advantages together, one's own skills will improve.

Aside from being constrained by these old clan rules, Fok was forced to marry a wife that he did not love. His love interest is Chiu Sin Nam (Mai Shuet) from the Chiu Family, so it is quite like the whole Romeo and Juliet, Montegue and Capulet affair.

Every year, the two families have a duel with 3 matches to determine who is the better clan division. While training his students, Fok's father discovers Chen Zhen (Leung Siu Lung) hiding up in the trees and peeking at their martial arts. Chen Zhen escapes. It turns out that Chen Zhen's master is an old man with a lame arm. This old man was once defeated by Bei Zhong Fist and wants to avenge his defeat at the duel.

On the day of the duel, during the second match between the elder brothers of Fok Yuen Kap and Chiu Sin Nam, the old man intervenes and defeats both opponents. Fok and Chiu's fathers both fight him but during the fight, the old man suddenly uses his lame arm--which obviously is not lame--and caught them by surprise, defeating both of them.

They are all in shock and shame until Fok Yeun Gap comes out and challenges the old man. Everyone at the scene is surprised since Fok is not supposed to know any martial arts. The old man is utterly defeated by Fok. He asks Fok for the name of the fist he used, but Fok has no answer for him.

Chen Zhen and the old man leave. The old man is so consumed and devastated by the defeat that he dies, despite only minor wounds. Before he passes away, he warns Chen Zhen not to avenge his death since Fok Yuen Gap is too powerful. Chen Zhen, however, thinks otherwise and is determined to seek Fok for revenge.

Fok is questioned by his father where he secretly learned his kungfu. Fok claims that he has invented his own fist attacks. Though it looks a bit like Fok Family Fist, it is in actuality, nothing like it.

Chen Zhen sends a coffin to the Fok Family but is defeated by Fok's father and older brothers. The second time around, he sneak attacks Fok but is defeated by Fok. Chen Zhen is so angry that he picks up his dagger to commit suicide but Fok saves him. The next time around, Chen Zhen surprisingly asks Fok to accept him as a disciple.

Meanwhile, the cousin of Sin Nam came to the village. He is Lung Hoi Sung (? actor who was Yueng Siu in TVB "Heavenly Sword Dragon Saber 1986") and was arranged to marry Sin Nam at a young age. Sin Nam despises him and refuses the marriage. Lung Hoi Sung recruits her two brothers to help him open up opium smoke houses in the mean time. When Sin Nam's father finds out, Lung pretends to appease to his wishes to discontinue the business and poisons him.

Lung goes ahead and imports opium in the guise of medicine. He hires a "bo bieu", bodyguard, for the shipment. When the bodyguard finds out it is all opium and smoking pipes, he burns the cargo. Lung finds out and kills the bodyguard. Before he dies, he asks Fok to take care of his nephew, Lau Chun Sing.

Chen Zhen saves Chun Sing when he goes to the opium house to cause trouble. The two beg Fok Yuen Gap to accept them as disciples but Fok refuses. When they keep persisting and trying to trick him into accepting, Fok finally agrees. However, he must first ask his father for permission.

Fok's father is against it since Fok does not even have his own clan. Fok's mother persuades his father to accept Fok into the Fok Family Clan. On the day of the ceremonial rituals, when Fok hears all the rules about only accepting men, only passing on to the elder son, only teaching the real stuff to those with the surname Fok, etc., he refuses to join. His father is so angry that he attempts to hit Fok's palm three times to rid of their father-son relationship. Luckily, the last time is saved by Fok's mother.

Chun Sing is continually vexed about revenge. Chen Zhen promises to go along with him to burn the opium house. The same day they go, Fok was also there with a woman servant to help her drag her husband out. Chen and Chun Sing are discovered and Fok is automatically deemed as an accomplice in arson. The three escape and decide they must flee the village.

While Fok goes to see his family for the last time, he is surrounded by officers and men led by Lung Hoi Sung. Fok accidentally kills Sin Nam's second brother in battle and escapes. He meets up with Chen and Chun Sing at their temple hideout. They are soon surrounded at the temple--guess who leaked their whereabouts? The three are locked up in jail. Fok's father bribes the head guard to release them and the three escape by boat.

During the ride, Chen Zhen knocks Fok Yuen Gap, who can't swim, into the waters. While pretending to save Fok, he actually pushes Fok further down with a pole and satisfactorily thought he drowned Fok. However, to Chen's dismay, Fok miraculously walks out of the water alive when they reach ashore. Fok Yuen Gap finally names his invented fist as MiZhong Fist--mi means lost/confused and zhong is clan. Arriving at Tin Chun Village, they meet Chun Sing's friend, the wealthy Lok Dai On, who is very helpful to them. Chen Zhen also meets and falls in love with So Zhi (Ngai Chow Wah) who is really a Japanese spy. They run into some trouble with the local Axe Gang.

At Tin Chun, a powerful Japanese warrior is going around challenging famous figures and was so far, undefeated. Speeding ahead, Fok Yuen Gap eventually defeats him with his Mizhong Fist. However, the warrior is stabbed by So Zhi's brother who then lays the blame on Fok and later enlists for the warrior's martial brother to avenge him. The Axe Gang, along with Lung Hoi Sung, invites Fok to a meeting and through So Zhi, they know Chen Zhen also wants to kill Fok. However, Chen Zhen, at the last moment, could not make himself stab Fok behind his back. Chen Zhen finally lets go of his previous master's death and truly accepts Fok as his master this time.

Fok meets up with Sin Nam at Tin Chun and she agrees to go to Beijing with them. He also accepts Lok Dai On, who has used up all his wealth to help them, as his third disciple. They reach Beijing to the martial arts school of Fok's uncle. To make a long story short, Fok becomes a national hero after he defeats a Russian wrestler who set up a platform challenging all of China. He also sets up his martial school, the famous Jing Mo Moon. The presence of Fok represents the morale and hope of the Chinese and he is naturally the enemy of the Japanese spies, of Lung Hoi Sung, and the corrupt Beijing government. Fok is captured at one point through ambush and given many needle shots with opium injections to turn him into a drug addict, becoming a "sickman of the east". However, through his will power, Fok kicks off the addiction. Unfortunately, just when he was regaining his health again, he is poisoned through a conspiracy setup by the Japanese spies.

Most people only know the story of Chen Zhen from famous movies like Bruce Lee's "Fist of Fury", Jet Li's "Fist of Legend", and Donnie Yen's ATV "Fist of Fury" television series. Fok Yuen Gap is a very relatable and down to earth hero, not someone who will always win, or always be there to save the day and make everything better. He is very mortal and human and yet is also still very "hero". To die from poisoning, even our powerful hero is immediately taken in by the venom and dies (at the age of 42 in real history). Even in terms of romance, he obviously did not love his wife and couldn't help himself when it came to Sin Nam. There were several times in the series where Fok was so insensitive to his wife who was always supportive of whatever he did. Yet, Fok is helpless of this because he just didn't love her.

Chen Zhen is also a relatable hero as he is a hothead and acts on the spur. You'll also want to cheer whenever Chen gets angry and goes ahead to beat someone up. I think this series qualifies Chen Zhen's immense need for revenge as his character is defined and drawn out so well here. We know he has a very quick temper, will lose his cool over taunts and is not afraid to kick anyone's a--. We also know he treats his master with much respect. When his first master died, he went to all means to try and kill Fok. When Fok died, he was so grieved. The scene where he runs to the already buried grave and does not believe his master has died and starts to dig Fok out is very emotional. The adaptations that start out with Chen Zhen's story after the death of Fok really show a much more cool, collected, and matured Chen Zhen (as seen in ATV's immediate sequel also played by Leung Siu Lung).

The fight scenes in "Legendary" are all wonderfully done. No gimmicks, all real kungfu and adequately long fight scenes. The romance between Fok Yuen Gap and Sin Nam got a little boring after awhile when you know that whenever Sin Nam shows up on the screen, the action dies down. Then more about the progress between their forbidden love.

Wong in modern outfit
(Picture on right) Wong Yuen Sun as Sai Moon Chui Shuet.

There is about zero humor in this series because they obviously weren't living in a very happy time period. Yet that doesn't detract from the series because unlike TVB series nowadays, it doesn't try to make fun of itself by adding silly jokes just for the purpose of some laughs.

Wong Yuen Sun is a very talented actor and it is a pity that he left the entertainment industry right after the success of Fok Yuen Gap. "Legendary Fok" was the last series that he starred in before converting into a Buddhist monk. Wong has made quite a lot of notable roles back then that are still considered by many as classics. His role in TVB's "Lok Siu Fung" in 1977 as the cold swordsman Sai Moon Chui Shuet is still deemed as the best. Wong was also in TVB series such as "The Romantic Swordsman Xiao Li Fei Dao" as Ah Fei, "Juet Doi Shang Diao" as Siu Yu Yee and in ATV's classic "The Rise and Fall of the Ching Dynasty".

Bruce Leung Siu Lung shares the same name as Bruce Lee Siu Lung. He was one of the actors back then who imitated Bruce Lee's style after Bruce Lee had died and left only a legacy. However, Leung Siu Lung looks nothing like Bruce Lee. Short and stocky, Leung is very magnetic on the screen but he unfortunately does not have the outer appearance to match. Leung is well known for his kicking abilities and it really shows in this series. Every time Leung fights, you could see the force and power in his punches and kicks. When Leung gets angry, his face scrunches up and you know this guy is mad.

Leung Siu Lung made many series and movies in his acting career but due to trouble with the triads, he was forced to quit the entertainment business. His tale is quite sordid, to be forced to stop what you love to do, especially when your career is at its peak. Now, years later, news is that Leung will be coming back and remaking his lead role as Chen Zhen. When I heard this bit of news I was shocked--Leung is so old now! He might still retain his old glory at fighting but I am skeptical about the popularity of his new series.

Michelle Mai Shuet was very pretty in "Legendary" as usual. She usually is very charismatic in ancient and period costumes. Starring in many of RTV's and TVB's old series back then, Mai Shuet was a very popular star back then.

Ngai Chow Wah was also very famous back then and she does have a charming and sweet face. The most recent series I have seen her in was TVB's "Return of the Condor Heroes" in 1995 as Wong Yung where she also played her role well.

The themesong is sung by Yip Chun Tong and is very good--the lyrics are very meaningful and has a great patriotic feel to it. It is another one those great classics.

I've just learned recently that Zhao Wen Zhuo will play Fok Yuen Gap in a remake of this 1981 version in a Beijing production soon. "Legendary" was the very first series to be released in China in the 80's and was such a huge hit that it broke some ratings record at that time. Actually I am starting to think this is freaky. A while back when I wrote the review for ATV's old version of "Reincarnated" 1978 I had wrote a detailed summary for it, thinking that there won't be any remakes any time soon for it. It was the only reason I went into details when summarizing because I usually don't want to reveal too much of the plot (my policy -- this is a review of my personal opinion after all) and only provide the introduction to spark the reader's interest to go watch and judge for themself. However, as I was searching the web for pictures for "Reincarnated", I found articles and such for the new Wu Jing (Ng Ging) Taiwanese version of "Reincarnated". Now as I searched for pictures of "Legendary Fok" I came across tons of articles about the pending Zhao Wen Zhuo as Fok Yuen Gap, just when I was halfway through writing the summary with the same belief in mind as I had for "Reincarnated".

I'm happy that people still think of "Legendary" as a great series, so good that they're remaking it but in some sense, I wish they didn't do it. Leave the old classic alone. The casting and music scoring for this '81 version was so good already, broadcast it again on TV or something, come out with more VCDs for it, but don't, don't remake it! Unfortunately, it's already happening. Zhao Wen Zhuo is actually not a bad pick for Fok Yuen Gap since he will definitely handle fighting scenes very well. At least I'd rather see him as Fok than as Wind in the new "Fung Wan". This new version will also be using the same themesong that was originally sung by Johnny Yip Chun Tong but it will be in mandarin! The new version will also be adding some more romance and females in Fok's love life to make things more complicated. I think that will be very droll and won't really contribute to the story--another ploy to make a series longer. Aside from that, Lung Hoi Sung's character is completely removed and the ending is still unconfirmed as to whether Fok will die or not, which is dumb speculation since he does die in history, so why the heck not show him dying at the end?

The producer has admitted that he spent almost half a year trying to find someone as talented as Wong Yuen Sun to play Fok Yuen Gap. Wong not only had the looks of an hero, but he was also able to fight well enough to portray the spectaculars of Mizhong Fist. In the end, he settled for Zhao Wen Zhuo.

Images from:
http://www.bjyouth.com.cn/Bqb/20010415/BIG5/4584%5ED0415B1212.htm (Bruce Leung)
http://www.geocities.com/cultpic/Neo.htm(Wong Yuen Sun)
Me Tuyet Homepage (Michelle Mai)

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