Fist of Legend
I try to avoid terms like awesome or blown away
in my reviews because I dont want to sound like a total HK fanboy but
after watching this Jet Li film on the big screen at the Music Palace those
were the terms that first came to mind. The fight choreography (action
director Yuen Wo-Ping) truly is awesome incredibly clean, pure, powerful,
quick and as graceful as any ballet. It is almost dance like in its incredibly
precise movements and has an amazing rhythm to it. I was simply blown away
by the many fight sequences and wanted to have them replayed on the screen.
The wire work is kept to a minimum utilized primarily to send people
flying back 20-feet upon being kicked by Jet! and the fighting style
is more in keeping with the traditional kung-fu films but so much faster,
so much more exciting and edited to perfection.
Though this film's great reputation rests to a
large degree on its action, it has a number of other interesting cultural
and personal cross-currents that make it an even richer and more rewarding
film. Based to some degree on the Bruce Lee film Fists of Fury it approaches
the story in a much less simplistic manner and has a number of other characters
and plot threads that create a fuller portrayal of this period in Chinese
It is a fascinating period in history at
least looking back perhaps not so much for the people living through
it. In the 1920s Asia was again coming into its own after being subjected
to western domination for many years. In Japan militarism/expansionism
was on the rise in conflict with some of their traditional values and
at odds with the intellectuals and the remnants of the samurai warrior
class. Japan was intent on not only diminishing the influence of the west,
but also on carving out its own sphere of influence China being one of
their main targets. China on the other hand was attempting to form a republican
government after centuries of Imperial rule. The western governments along
with Japan had control of certain areas of China in particular in Shanghai
where this film takes place and a strong sense of nationalism was taking
hold throughout China. The hatred and racial prejudices between China and
Japan also comes to the forefront. All these themes are explored within
the context of this action film.
Jet Li is studying in Japan and has a Japanese
girlfriend where he learns that his sifu back in China has been killed
in a match with a Japanese master. Jet rushes back to his martial art school
and immediately challenges the man who defeated his sifu and completely
destroys him. This brings Jet and the school into conflict with the Japanese.
Jet has a number of fights against large groups a few times but it
is his four one on ones against various foes that are truly remarkable.
In one, he fights against an honorable Samurai
(Yasuaki Kurata) the uncle of his girlfriend and the fight is a pure
visual pleasure in particular when Kurata gets dirt in his eyes and can
no longer see. Jet honorably puts on a blindfold and the two fight each
other only by sound and instinct. It is an astonishing sequence.
In the final fight it is Jet Li up against the
Japanese general played by Billy Chow. The fight goes for a good fifteen
minutes and is as brutal and savage and brilliant as any you will see.
The fight seesaws back and forth until both are bloodied and beaten.
Though the film is clearly from a Chinese point
of view and is certainly very nationalistic in nature it is not a strictly
anti-Japanese/pro Chinese diatribe. There are a number of Japanese that
act honorably and have no sympathy for the military while there are some
Chinese who are much less than honorable.
There are also some intense personal conflicts
that keep the film interesting. The son (Chin Siu Ho) of the sifu becomes
jealous of the admiration that Jet receives and challenges him to a fight
and later Jet is expelled from the school and deserted by everyone because
he wont leave his Japanese girlfriend.
Jet Li plays this one completely straight there
is no time or room for levity in this film and his naturally stoic personality
feels just right for his character. Needless to say he is brilliant in
the action segments, but he gets wonderful support from Billy Chow, Chin
Siu Ho, Paul Chun Pui and others. One of my favorite actresses Ada Choi
- has a smallish but important role as a high class prostitute.
This is simply a great martial arts film with
some of the best martial arts I have come across in a HK film and that
is saying quite a bit. This is a must see film.
My rating for this film: 9.0