Friday, September 22, 2006

Jet Li's Fearless

Directed by Ronny Yu
Written by Chris Chow

Jet Li returns with what has been billed as his final martial arts epic, but I think this is merely clever wording. It could be his last "epic" but not the last time he does martial arts in film, especially since he's just finished working on a movie with Jason Statham called Rogue, which sounds like much ass-kicking will take place. The Chinese martial arts epic has been flooding the American market since the success of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and we've seen tons of graceful, floating, wire-fu warriors since (like House of Flying Daggers or Jet Li's Hero) . Thankfully, Fearless doesn't rely on those tricks we've seen for years--there's no one floating to rooftops and there are no scenic, dreamlike battle scenes.

Huo Yuanjia (Li) has wanted to be the best fighter in his hometown since he was a kid, and after an early beatdown, vows never to lose again. Forward to the present, he's a badass and he hasn't lost any competitions, many men are rushing to be his "disciples," and he lives life with reckless abandon and drinks hard, becoming a bad father to his daughter and not listening to his mother. An incident to one of his disciples has him picking on one of the best fighters he hasn't faced yet, in his friend's teahouse. This battle has numerous consequences to friends and family, and he sort of banishes himself to the countryside and lives on a plantation for a few years. There, he learns peace and honor. When he returns, China has been host to overwhelming Western rule, and the Chinese are being insulted and looked down upon. They are considered inferior, which leads to a tournament where four of the best non-Chinese guys fight Huo for some mythical racial superiority test.

I really liked how Huo is not exactly a nice guy from the very beginning. In many of these movies, the hero is already so good, so well-versed in the honor code, you wonder if they ever have to take a crap. As much as the revenge-begets-revenge theme has been explored in the past, it really rings true here. More importantly, people just wanting to take in some ass-beating are going to love this--it's more Bloodsport than Crouching Tiger. Although more accurately, it's a little in-between because a story is important here.

Occasionally, there are special effects that are too easy to spot, and some of the death-defying acrobatics become less involving because of it. But it's not like Romeo Must Die or anything, where it's so bad you wondered why they got Jet Li at all. Overall, very good entertainment and recommended.


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