Born to Defence

Of all the Jet Li films that I have seen this would have to be considered the most brutal of them. At the same time though, there were definite aspirations to create a very dramatic framework in which to build this grueling action around. It is undermined though by it’s virulently anti-American sentiments and the simplistic contrast it creates between good and evil. There are no gray areas here. The Americans are portrayed as complete and utter swine.

I am not sure if this film was funded in the Chinese Mainland, but it certainly has a very propagandistic flavor to it. The Nationalistic troops are not depicted in any more of a positive light than the Americans are. Jet Li directed it but according to Bey Logan’s HK Action Cinema there were numerous production problems and that Tsui Siu Ming had to take it over. Certainly Jet has not directed a film since this attempt.

The film begins at the end of WWII and Jet’s platoon is involved in a ferocious fight with the Japanese army. Then suddenly the war is over and Jet is on his way back home. At home he meets up with an older army comrade, Zhang, who had once saved his life in the war. Zhang tells Jet that his daughter is dead, but in fact she has become a prostitute and Zhang has disowned her.

The US Navy has taken up residence in the town and they are the scum of the earth – running over the locals, showing no respect for anything or anyone, raping the women etc. I know they were no boy scouts, but it is so overdone that the film loses a lot of its intended dramatic impact. Jet needless to say takes offense and gets into a number of fights with them. These fights are incredibly brutal and at times difficult to watch. There is no stylish acrobatic wire-fu going on here - just toe to toe, face to face beating. He gets into the boxing ring a few times with them and gets pulverized – though he gets in a few good whacks of his own. At one point a match turns into a bar room brawl between the Americans and the Chinese that really felt out of control. During all this, Jet and Zhang’s daughter become attached to one another. It was actually some of the little dramatic bits that I liked here – this relationship, the one between Jet and Zhang and then the reconciliation between father and daughter. It had a real working class Bicycle Thief feel to it and I was almost wishing that this part of the film would take precedence over the action – but no such luck.

This is an interesting if very flawed film from Jet that is very different from anything else he has ever done. Its failure at the box office helped convince Jet to move to San Francisco for a few years. I would be curious to see what he thinks of it today.

My rating for this film: 5.5