The Legend of Wisely [Wai Si-Lei chuen kei](1987)

Raiders of the Lost Ark may well be the second most copied movie of all time — second, after Star Wars, that is.

There have been no end of Italian copies, of course, and a number of Indian ones, and a sprinkling from other countries.  Not to mention a few American ones.  So it should come as little surprise that the Hong Kong film industry also turned out its share of “Raiders”- Lite.

However, while the makers of The Legend of Wisely may have had Indiana Jones in mind when they made this one, you would be hard pressed to find anything in it that was borrowed from those films.  It is also one of the best Hong Kong action films of the era.

Part of the reason this is true is that they adapted it from the popular series of pulp novels about the extraordinary Wai Si-Lei (aka Wisely, or even Wesley), a science fiction writer, expert on the occult and adventurer.  Quite a few films have been made about Wisely, including The Cat [Lao mao], the decidedly inferior The Wesley’s Mysterious File, and sort of an extended cameo in The Seventh Curse (with Chow Yun Fat playing the definitive Wisely, who gets to meet his own, real-life creator).  Heck, there were even comics, radio dramas — and Youtube has what appear to be episodes of one of the four television shows.

This time, an old friend drags Wisely into the quest for a long lost artifact, the “Dragon Pearl.”  Only, he’s neglected to mention that he expects Wisely to help him steal it.

This soon brings him into contact with a mysterious Buddhist cult, a reclusive millionaire who can set people on fire by looking at them funny, and the beautiful sister of the leader of a criminal Tong (both of whom are masters of the Martial Arts!) — and sends him off to Egypt and Tibet.

At first glance, this might not seem a SF film:  the notion that the mysterious Pearl is some sort of computer and contains a lot of data gets thrown into the mix along the way, but the extraterrestrial origin of the Pearl and the mysterious Howard Hunt are only hinted at until quite late in the film.  There’s a stunning sequence at the climax, when we learn what the Pearl really does and why Hunt wants it.  Now, a lot of reviewers have revealed what it is they find, but it is so outrageous that I would rather leave it to the viewer to discover just what it is.  The whole sequence, which also throws in a collapsing temple and a death ray, is an incredible piece of model work and effects — some of the best I’ve seen in a Hong Kong film.

Samuel Hui, who plays Wisely, also produced the film.  I’d noticed that this one had a lot more Martial Arts than the other Wisely films I’ve seen, and one does wonder if there’s a connection.  While Chow Yun Fat, for example, is the consummate action star, he generally doesn’t do a lot of fancy Kung Fu moves the way this Wisely does.  The devious four-foot ten inch David Ko is played by the film’s director (and HK regular) Teddy Robin Kwan.  Curiously, he fronted a hot Hong Kong band back in the Sixties, singing lead vocals and playing lead guitar.  However, despite his long list of composing credits, he didn’t provide the film’s score.  The lovely Joey Wang is as beautiful as ever here, and on the edge of fame:  her next film would be the one that put her on the map, A Chinese Ghost Story.

But ignore all that.  This film is a treat for the discerning HK Chopsockey fan, rushing from one adventure to the next, with enough plot twists and exotic locales to keep it all interesting, and a totally insane finale that is more than worth the price of admission.

And don’t let a certain George Lucas and Steven Spielberg film which drags science fiction into the world of Indiana Jones worry you.

This one came first.

(English subtitles available here)

(Former member of Mark’s Wish List)

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