Martial Arts Remake Iceman Makes a Strong Case to Revisit the Original


The Iceman Cometh, Clarence Fok’s 1989 Hong Kong martial arts film, achieved classic status on the strength of Fok’s facility with multiple elements: humor that could be silly without being juvenile, dazzlingly choreographed action sequences, a story filled with wit, and charming lead performances (Yuen Biao, Maggie Cheung).

There’s a kind of elegance to it. Iceman, the new remake starring Donnie Yen and directed by Law Wing-cheong, is aggressively inelegant. When Ming warrior He Ying (Yen) awakens in modern Hong Kong after centuries frozen in slumber, he’s burdened by his history — being unfairly accused of treason, stripped of honor, his family slaughtered.

He’s carrying a time-travel device that is activated by a metaphorically crude act, and that figures heavily in the film’s plot machinations. Also awakened are two friends-turned-enemies, now in fast pursuit. He Ying, who takes a selfish club hostess as his guide through the present, is the fish out of water, mortified by both the licentiousness and conveniences of contemporary life (he drinks from a toilet).

His foes, though, are fish in water, and they take to modernity: porn, fast food, scantily clad women. (This is how we know they’re villains and he’s the hero.) The story is unnecessarily muddled and confusing in the telling, and the athletically gifted Yen is overshadowed by largely mediocre CGI effects. Revisit the original instead.