Directors: Wong Jing, Keung Kwok Man
Writer: Wong Jing
Cast: Raymond Lam, Janice Man, Sabrina Qiu, and Yun Qianqian
In cinemas in Singapore from 12 February
3 out of 5 stars
If you haven’t read Jin Yong’s Heaven Sword And Dragon Sabre wuxia novel, then it’s best to read the synopsis before catching New Kung Fu Cult Master 2 - the film provides very little exposition about what’s happened before. The sequel to New Kung Fu Cult Master 1, both movies are a retelling of Jin Yong’s classic tale. But while New Kung Fu Cult Master 1 had the benefit of Louis Koo and Donnie Yen as guest stars, this new movie doesn’t benefit from their superstardom (the characters they play don’t appear here). Instead, it relies on the strength of its story and the performances of its main characters to carry it through. Is it enough, however?
That depends on what you think of the casting of the three leads - Raymond Lam (as Zhang Wuji), Janice Man (as Zhao Min), and Sabrina Qiu (as Zhou Zhiruo).
Personally, I think Man captures the coy playfulness of Zhao Min well, while Qiu manages to portray the helplessness of Zhou Zhiruo while still convincingly depicting her character growth later on.
Much has been said about Raymond Lam’s age, that he’s the oldest actor (42 this year) to have played the role of Zhang Wuji. He certainly doesn’t seem as spry as you’d expect a young adult martial artist to be (which is what Zhang Wuji is) - and given that the story revolves almost entirely around Zhang Wuji… that’s a fairly big flaw.
The martial arts film centres around Zhang Wuji and his adventures with the two most powerful weapons in the martial arts world - the Heavenly Sword and the Dragon-Slaying Sabre.
The first movie saw Zhang Wuji mastering several powerful martial arts skills and getting entangled in a love quadrangle between Zhao Min, Zhou Zhiruo, and Xiao Zhao (Yun Qianqian), even as he becomes the leader of the misunderstood and disliked Ming Sect.
This second film sees him rescuing the other six orthodox martial sects from Zhao Min’s villainous plans, as the secret behind the two weapons is finally revealed.
Perhaps it’s because of Lam’s lack of spryness, or maybe it was a directorial decision, but for a martial arts film, there’s decidedly not enough martial arts. Granted, a lot of time is spent around the romantic drama between Zhang Wuji and his three beaus. But most fights centre around Zhang Wuji (who is far and away the most powerful character in the film, so his victories are never in doubt) - and there just doesn’t seem to be enough of them for a wuxia film.
While the special effects are not the draw of the film, suffice to say that the film would have done better without the special effects that were eventually included. The quality of said effects is a little suspect, and does more to detract the viewer from what’s happening, rather than enhancing the scenes that they’re used in. Maybe if that budget could have been diverted to more fight scenes, it would have resulted in a more action-packed movie.
The lack of exposition also hurts the movie at times – it feels like it’s dragging you quickly through each scene rather than telling a compelling narrative. For Jin Yong fans, this won’t be a problem - you’d probably understand the context behind the events and the nuances of the relationship between characters. But even as a wuxia fan, I felt that the film could have done with a little more explanation about what’s happening, to help to improve the storytelling of the film.
The movie also ends in an atypical fashion (for adaptations of Heaven Sword And Dragon Sabre), which is slightly surprising but also abrupt. Perhaps it was to trim the run time, but the conclusion didn’t feel earned. It just felt like it was dropped on the characters rather than the story organically growing to that conclusion. It was disappointing to see it handled like that.
New Kung Fu Cult Master 2 barely manages to hold its own without the two superstars from the first film. While the female leads play their part well, Raymond Lam just doesn’t have what it takes to play Zhang Wuji. More action and exposition would have helped make a better film. But if you watched the first, then this second is almost mandatory viewing - if only to give some closure to the first.
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