Wednesday, November 4, 2009
(Written upon its release in 2006)
As most know by now, Fearless has been tagged as Jet Li’s final Wushu martial arts epic. This is obviously not good news to any fan of martial arts films, and especially fans of Li himself. That said, if you ever wondered how Jet Li would end his triumphant run after so many classic martial arts films, I can tell you he goes out on top. Fearless is easily one of Li’s best films in years, maybe ever. Also it is definitely one of director Ronny Yu’s best achievements in over ten years (in the past decade we have been treated with such forgettable films as ‘Freddy vs Jason’, ‘Bride of Chucky’, and ‘Formula 51’).
The film tells the story Chinese martial arts legend Huo Yuanjia. (Jet Li) and how he took back the lost pride and glory of the Chinese from the influential western powers and the growing Japanese reign in the early 20th century. The film opens up at the climatic moment of the story, at a fighting tournament where four of the top fighters from Japan, and the west are to compete against Yuanjia himself. Right from the beginning we are treated to a wonderful sequence of fights between three of the competitors and Yuanjia. But before he is to fight his final component, Anno Tanaka (Shido Nakamura), the story sends us back to Yuanjai’s childhood.
We see a very rambunctious young Yuanjia who wants very much to be a martial arts master like his father, but is forbidden to because of his asthma. When he watches his father be publicly defeated and humiliated in a fight, young Yuanjia challenges his own fight with a local bully, where he is also defeated and feels personally obligated to become the greatest fighter in TianJin.
The story then sends us forward to 10 years before the climax of the film, where we see an older Yuanjia who has almost achieved what he set out to do. We see him easily take on and defeat many local fighters and quickly become a local icon. Unfortunately as his popularity and reputation as a great fighter grows, so does his arrogance.
Everything suddenly comes to crashing halt when he unintentionally kills a fighter who he called out to fight during his birthday celebration. At this point we can start to see Yuanjin begin to start losing his self-control. But the final blow to his stability occurs when his daughter, and mother are brutally murdered out of vengeance for the man he killed. Yuanjin, in a state of complete disarray, fleas his town and takes salvage in a small farming village. He spends many years there, and with the help of a lovely blind girl finds himself, and is ready to return to his village and make a mends with his troubled past. Unfortunately when he returns, his village has started to fall to the influence of the westerners.
Shortly after his return, he discovers there is an American who has been defeating Chinese fighters all over the country and as a result the Chinese name is being tarnished and ridiculed as the 'the sick man of Asia’
Yuanjia now finds himself with a new personal objective; he fights not for his personal glory, but for his country and his people. We see his heroics return in a new light, and this light is ever so wonderful.
Fearless is a very special film, not only is it Jet Li’s final wushu film, but it’s a return to what Jet Li does best. When he did Hero in 2002, Jet Li fans worldwide rejoiced at seeing his return to his roots after so many disappointing American films. But Fearless is even more of what we all love so much about Jet Li, its Jet Li, its Wushu, its glorious!
Now there is one problem with the film, or should I say “lack-there-of”. The current version available(NOTE: Directors Cut now available), and probably the theatrical version is a mere 100 minutes. However the film that was shot was a much longer 150 minutes. I hate to admit it, but you can tell. The pacing of the film is good, but it just feels too quick. The story being told just can’t be done in less then two hours. The film takes place mainly over 10 years (longer if you include the childhood scenes) and there are many key moments throughout the 10 years, so an hour and 40 minutes just doesn’t work Now perhaps 150 minutes is too long, but cutting almost an hour seems like butchery. There is even cut scenes featuring the lovely Michelle Yeoh. However, all that said. The film is very watchable and even if there is never a full version available, what we get is still great. The acting is terrific, great casting, and lovely cinematography. There are some minor stop-and-go moments during the fights. They work, but some may find them unnecessary.
So if this is indeed Jet Li’s final Wushu martial arts film. I can honestly say it is a hell of a way to go. It’s hard to tell if this film will have the same impact Hero did to a worldwide audience, but for fans on the genre, and of Jet Li. I cannot see this disappointing.
A Film By: Ronny Yu