Twenty-nine years after the uneven Kung Fu Cult Master <倚天屠龍記之魔教教主> left us hanging with only half the story, Wong Jing is finally given the second chance to revive the classic Jin Yong’s (Louis Cha) story of The Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre.
This time, Wong Jing manages to fulfil the entire story and split them into a two-part movie saga — something that he has failed to do so back in 1993 due to box-office failure. Co-directed alongside Keung Kwok-Man (they previously collaborated in 2010’s Black Ransom <撕票風雲>, 2011’s Treasure Hunt <無價之寶> and 2013’s Princess And Seven Kung Fu Masters <笑功震武林>), the 2022 version opens with an extended prologue detailing various sects fighting for the two powerful swords. We see Cheung Sam-Fung’s (Donnie Yen) disciple, Cheung Tsui-San (Louis Koo) and wife Yan So-So (Rebecca Zhu) confront some of the sects (among them include Shaolin and Wu Tang) — a result that ended up with impending doom and sacrifice.
Here, Wong Jing gives us around half an hour’s worth of backstory surrounding all the initial conflicts when Cheung Tsui-San and Yan So-So’s only child, Mo-Kei is still a kid. The movie then jumps into the later years, where Mo-Kei becomes an adult (now played by Raymond Lam Fung). From there, he crosses paths with Siu Chiu (Yun Qianqian), Chow Chi-Yeuk (Sabrina Qiu) and a scheming princess Chiu Man (Janice Man).
New Kung Fu Cult Master 1 <倚天屠龍記之九陽神功> runs almost two hours long, which in turn, benefits Wong Jing and Keung Kwok-Man to tell half the story without rushing everything just like the 1993 version. The story may suffer from a few narrative shortcuts (i.e. certain supporting characters and plot points are glossed over without given a proper explanation or development). But at least it was sufficiently told than the 1993 version.
Wong Jing’s typical crass jokes are thankfully reduced in this 2022 version this time around, even though it still feels odd to see Tin Kai-Man and Lam Tze-Chung are added as comic relief. This is especially true since New Kung Fu Cult Master 1 <倚天屠龍記之九陽神功> is largely depicted as a dark wuxia fantasy compared to the fast-and-loose Kung Fu Cult Master <倚天屠龍記之魔教教主>.
In terms of acting, never mind the fact that New Kung Fu Cult Master 1 <倚天屠龍記之九陽神功> changes Mo-Kei’s otherwise twentysomething character into someone older around 30 years of age to justify the controversial casting of 42-year-old Raymond Lam Fung. What actually bothers me the most is his stiff and sometimes constipated expression throughout the movie. His co-star, Yun Qianqian who plays the spunky Siu Chiu is certainly no match for Chingmy Yau’s unforgettable role in the 1993 version. Even without the comparison, Yun Qianqian’s acting doesn’t leave much of an impression in New Kung Fu Cult Master 1 <倚天屠龍記之九陽神功>. The same also goes with Sabrina Qiu (2019’s Chasing The Dragon II: Wild Wild Bunch <追龍II: 賊王>), whose supporting role as Chow Chi-Yeuk previously played by Gigi Lai is equally a letdown as well.
New Kung Fu Cult Master 1 <倚天屠龍記之九陽神功> also features Louis Koo and Donnie Yen in respective small roles as Cheung Tsui-San and Cheung Sam-Fung. I almost expect their roles are more of a stunt casting but I’m glad Wong Jing and Keung Kwok-Man manage to find ways how to make good use of their appearances worthwhile.
As for the rest of the supporting cast, Janice Man delivers decent support as Chiu Man but it’s hard to take Alex Fong Chung-Sun and Raymond Wong Ho-Yin seriously, particularly the way they look like they try too hard to draw attention. Alex Fong Chung-Sun’s salt-and-pepper hairstyle, coupled with his goatee made me feel as if he’s cosplaying a Chinese version of Marvel’s Doctor Strange. Raymond Wong Ho-Yin fares even worse in his role as Bat King, whose ridiculously thick eyebrows and pointy bat-shaped green hairstyle is unintentionally funny. The thing is, his character isn’t the same comic relief similar to Richard Ng’s role in Kung Fu Cult Master <倚天屠龍記之魔教教主> but rather a serious type. Perhaps someone should tell Wong Jing and Keung Kwok-Man that less is more.
The action sequences are devoid of the frenetic and messy style seen in the 1993 version. Instead, the effects-heavy fight set pieces are crisply shot and edited that you are able to appreciate its elaborate choreography. The final fight sequence is worth mentioning here, where Raymond Lam Fung’s Mo-Kei faces off against two fighters played by Xiong Xin-Xin and Fan Siu-Wong.