The blending of vast sets and digital effects is not quite seamless in Chow Hin Yeung’s period extravaganza “Rise of the Legend,” but it’s close. Revisiting the story of Wong Fei Hung, a martial arts master whose life has passed into Chinese folklore, “Legend” takes place in 19th century Guangzhou, where two crime factions vie for control of the docks. This movie’s Guangzhou is a marvel: sprawling, detailed and abounding in narrow alleys and vivid street scenes.
Alas, the plot and subplots are variations on time-honored Hong Kong cinema devices: the young Fei — played as an adult by Eddie Peng — grows up training alongside Fiery (Jing Boran); both pine for the same woman, Chun (Wang Luodan), a minder of street waifs. Fei, a formidable warrior, is adopted by the kingpin Lei Gong (kung fu movie veteran Sammo Hung), only to subvert his empire. When Chun and Fiery lead an insurrection and torch Lei Gong’s opium dens, furious but graceful brawls — orchestrated by the renowned fight choreographer Corey Yuen — erupt.
Peng has charisma, though his moves are less convincing than those of an earlier Fei: Jet Li, in Tsui Hark’s 1991 classic “Once Upon a Time in China” — and less humorous than those of Jackie Chan, who played Fei in “The Legend of Drunken Master,” aka “Drunken Master 2,” from 1994. But “Legend” does offer the hefty authority of Hung, who at 64 can still — almost — hit, kick and do wire work with the best of them.