Legend of the Fox vs. New Tales of the Flying Fox
Legend of the Fox and New Tales of the Flying Fox are both Shaw Brothers’ movies adapted from the novel Other Tales of the Flying Fox. Other Tales of the Flying Fox is a prequel to the novel The Fox Volant of Snow Mountain, which I have already discussed. However, while the original novel also has some of the characters from The Book and the Sword, they don’t show up in the movies.
Quick Story Overview
Hu Fei is an unfortunate young orphan. Just after he was born, his father, Hu Yidao, was killed by his friend Miao Renfeng in a duel—but Hu Yidao only died because the malevolent Tian Guinong put poison on Miao Renfeng’s sword. Hu Fei’s mother committed suicide shortly after this.
Hu Fei is a young man who has learned martial arts from the manual left by his father. Meanwhile, Miao Renfeng’s wife Na Lan abandoned him and their daughter to go be with Tian Guinong. As Hu Fei contemplates getting revenge on Miao Renfeng, Miao Renfeng is tricked, poisoned, and blinded. Since Hu Fei feels it would be dishonorable to kill Miao Renfeng while he’s blind, he works to restore his eyesight, so that he can then kill him with honor (isn’t that so logical?) Hu Fei meets Cheng Lingsu, a young woman who is an expert on poison and antidotes, and he asks her to help him restore Miao Renfeng’s eyesight. He also gets involved Cheng Lingsu’s conflicts with her master’s other students.
Both movies cover this much of the story, but beyond this, the plot of the two movies diverge. For example, Yuan Ziyi, who is a key character in both the original novel and in New Tales of the Flying Fox, does not appear at all in Legend of the Fox.
Background on the Movies
Why did Shaw Brothers adapt the same novel twice only four years apart (1980 and 1984)? I don’t know.
Legend of the Fox was directed by Chang Cheh, who is considered one of the great marital arts movie directors.
New Tales of the Flying Fox stars Felix Wong as Hu Fei and Kara Hui as Yuan Ziyi. Felix Wong is famous for playing Jin Yong heroes, such as Xu Zhu, Guo Jing, Yuan Chengzhi, and Qiao Feng. Well, in this film, he plays Hu Fei. Kara Hui, meanwhile, is a noted and highly-respected kung-fu movie star.
Mesmerizing Disco Fashion
One of the things that really struck me about Legend of the Fox was the fashion. Many of the characters were dressed as if they were ready to go to a disco party.
I was particularly mesmerized when there were whole slews of people dressed in oh-so-late-70s clothing.
New Tales of the Flying Fox also looks like an 80s film, but at least if feels like it’s set in imperial China, not a disco club.
My review of Legend of the Fox
First of all, this movie has *way too much dialogue*. I think at least 1/3 of the dialogue should have been cut out. I could have maybe forgiven the wordiness if it were being really faithful to the novel, but it makes a number of departures from the original novel (completely changing the ending, for example).
The acting … okay, the acting is not bad. At least, not bad enough to make me cringe. However, I don’t feel that the actors brought much to the table. Sure, the performances have a minimal competence, but I also feel that they didn’t bring any insight to the stories or the characters. Chin Siu-ho, in my opinion, was a shallow Hu Fei, which is a pity, because I think Hu Fei has a lot going on psychologically.
Now, it’s clear from the fight scenes that this came from the golden era of martial arts films. Everybody involved is clearly professional and skilled (I would expect no less of Chang Cheh). Some of the fights are a little long … but some of the fights are bloody impressive, such as the one where blind!Miao Renfeng fights a bunch of guys armed with chains.
Alas, while the fights do a fine job of supporting the movie, they can’t carry it—and as you may gather from the above comments, the script and the acting don’t carry the movie either.
Summary: though some of the fights are nice, I don’t like this movie.
The Value of Young Women
I could dedicate an entire post to the way Jin Yong’s female characters are treated, but here’s a short version: in Jin Yong stories, young women are valued for beauty/attractiveness and intelligence/knowledge. A young woman ideally is beautiful and smart, but if she’s not beautiful, she better be smart, and if she’s not smart, she better be beautiful. Young men, on the other hand, don’t have to be smart, or pretty, or anything else to be valued.
Cheng Ling-su, in the novel, is not pretty, so she has to justify her existence by being very smart and knowledgeable. This is who they cast to play her in Legend of the Fox
That’s right, they cast a pretty actress to play one of the few Jin Yong female protagonists who is not pretty.
Who do they cast in New Tales of the Flying Fox?
I think this is okay. By the standards of Hong Kong cinema, she is plain-looking.
My Review of New Tales of the Flying Fox
Even though this movie (90 minutes) is much shorter than Legend of the Fox (123 minutes), a lot more happens. This is partially because there is a lot less pointless dialogue.
In fact, this movie moves so quickly that once I got into the story I didn’t realize how quickly time was going by. “Whoa, I’m already an hour into the movie!”
The fight scenes are shorter in this movie, but I think that makes them better. They pack more of a punch this way. But it’s not just that. They also have a delightful playfulness about them.
The highlight of the movie for me, however, is the way that Felix Wong and Kara Hui come together so well in this film. Every scene featuring Hu Fei (Felix Wong) and Yuan Ziyi (Kara Hui) was a joy to watch. As actors, they reacted to each other like lightning, building on each other’s performance. It’s to bad there is no TV series starring the two of them together—I would watch it.
I wish this movie were a bit longer. I would not have minded seeing more fighting or more screen time between Hu Fei and Yuan Ziyi, but I think there were a couple things missing from the movie:
1) Some parts of the plot should have been better explained. I was able to follow everything because I had read the novel … but without knowing what happened in the novel, some things would not have made sense.
2) I would have liked more development of the relationship between Hu Fei and Cheng Lingsu. Ideally, Cheng Lingsu/Hu Fei/Yuan Ziyi should be a tense love triangle, but Hu Fei/Yuan Ziyi pretty much steals the show in this movie. The problem is that Hu Fei and Chung Lingsu simply don’t have enough screen time together, and as a consequence, one of the most moving parts of the story falls a bit flat in this movie.
Summary: If the biggest complaint I can make about a movie is “it was too short,” then I probably really liked the movie.
Availability in English
Both Legend of the Fox and New Tales of the Flying Fox are available on region 3 DVD with English subtitles.
The original novel is a bit all over the place, so it makes sense that a movie adaptation would pick and choose bits, and try to mold them into a coherent movie. These two movies did not pick and choose the same things, so even though they are based on the same novel, they feel very different from each other. Legend of the Fox is more about scheming and demonstrating physical might, and New Tales of the Flying Fox focuses more on personal relationships, with violence added for fun.
If you want to see a movie adaptation of Other Tales of the Fox, pick New Tales of the Flying Fox, not Legend of the Fox.
There will be a special post on Thursday, February 28.
Sara K. needs to watch more martial arts movies. She also needs to spend more time learning Chinese. She also needs to spend more time hiking. She also needs to cook more often. She also needs to learn some new skills. She also needs at least two hundred years of good health and economic security to do everything she wants to do. Sigh. That’s not going to happen.