The Legend

I just watched this tremendous Jet Li film again, and it has one absolutely magnificent role, that of Jet Li’s mother, played by Josephine Liao. [um, spoiler alert and all that, if it’s applicable to an old movie that’s been on TV more than once] The local ruler offers his daughter’s hand to anyone who can defeat his wife in combat. After a tough fight, our hero looks like he is about to win, but believing the daughter is hideous, he gives the fight away. His mother hears only that he has lost, and to reclaim the family honour ties her hair up and goes to fight. Not only does she win easily, but her opponent falls in love with her – at the time, this seems pretty much like the usual transvestite comedy, not so far from when Bernard Bresslaw dresses up a nurse and is fancied by some hapless bloke, but later, when the ruler’s wife is dying, held in her arms, Liao reveals herself, and the dying woman withour hesitation or shock declares that she will always love her, and the mother screams and wails as she dies, completely changing the sense of what has happened.

There are a couple of great moments in the big set-piece climax too. Jet Li is trying to save his father’s life from a guillotine, while the evil emperor’s army holds back the people. The weight is too heavy for him to hold the rope, and as it is dragging him along the ground, an old woman and a couple of children break through the cordon and grab the rope with him, inspiring the rest to revolt. It’s a moving moment, but the army are overwhelming the unarmed peasants and all is looking lost – when Li’s mother rides in with her sword and turns the tide, and the good guys win. I don’t think I’ve ever seen another maternal role anything like this – she rather overwhelms the lead (and executive producer), and Jet Li is a gorgeous man and brilliant martial artist, not at all an easy star to outshine.