A classic Kung Fu movie has certain elements to its plot, certain beats it must hit at certain times, which makes it almost the quintessential genre film. The Unity of Heroes does exactly that, no more and no less. Kung Fu movie enthusiasts can trust that there will be a benevolent master of Kung Fu, set in his old ways but always right and of course, very protective of the Chinese people. Evil will come from outside of China, via a foreigner of hinted American origin. The innocent commoners will fall for his scheme but the benevolent master will see through the ruse.
Director Lin Zhenzhao’s film does what it does well, but it never really falters away from the usual formula. The wisdom belongs only to the old fashioned Wong Fei-Hung (Vincent Zhao), who is not only good with martial arts but can also heal using traditional ancient medicine from years ago. When Auntie 13 (Wei Ni), a female friend of Wong, comes back from her trip abroad, she’s learned all sorts of things including foreign medicine (wouldn’t that make her a doctor?) she also dresses differently.
The bad guys come in many varieties. There’s the zealous new school from the North, led by respectful master Wu (Michael Tong) but whose students’ morals will be corrupted by the foreigners that have come with new ideas, a lot of money and a plot to poison the Chinese population with a drug that will make them stronger, violent and ultimately kill them. They will not particularly talk about that last one.
I found Captain Lu (Wei Xiaohuan) much more of a richer character. She’s strong, capable and morally ambiguous as she first helps the foreigners hide the mistakes of the drug and later on changes sides against the enemy. She’s a character with an agenda, and one that changes at that. Auntie 13 instead is supposed to be smart, but often enough capricious. Strangely enough, it’s Auntie 13’s modern medicine that saves Wong from a bullet wound at some point.
There’s one element that made me wince. Earlier in the film, Auntie 13 demonstrates she’s capable of handling herself against an attack. Later in the film, when the stakes are rather high and she’s in peril, master Wong has to remind her to use it. I know, let it go. I can’t. That was patronizing to her and the audience as we have to be given a flashback of scenes in case we forgot what Wong means.
Recommended with reservations for fans of Kung Fu movies. The story is pretty much linear and doesn’t deviate from the formula although sometimes I wished it would. There’s an element of hyper-patriotism as the old Chinese ways seem to be highlighted as wise and anything new and foreign is not to be trusted. When Auntie 13 talks about sharing and cooperating knowledge with people from other nations, I couldn’t help but agree with her. Sadly, the movie doesn’t.
That will do for now.