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Chen Zhen's first big-screen incarnation was the Bruce Lee classic
"Fist of Legend" and forty years since then, the part of the fictional
martial arts hero most famous for resisting the Japanese occupation of
Shanghai has been played by many actors including Jet Li and Donnie Yen
himself. The return of Donnie to the role since playing it in a 1995
ATV series shouldn't be surprising- after all, with both the Ip Man
films and Bodyguards and Assassins, Donnie has been at the forefront of
a recent wave of Hong Kong-China big-budget co-productions with strong
Chinese nationalistic sentiment.
True to the character's origins, this latest entry into the Chen Zhen mythology trades heavily in chest-thumping patriotism. Chen Zhen/ Donnie Yen's enemies are once again the Japanese- this time in glitzy 1920s Shanghai, an era when the city was divided along the lines of different expatriate factions. The Japanese though were the most ambitious and aggressive, eager to take advantage of a disunited China to conquer the motherland. While an offshore and offscreen naval campaign was ongoing, their strategy in Shanghai was to target locals and foreigners opposed to their plan of expansion.
Donning a black suit and mask, Chen Zhen takes it upon himself to stop the wave of assassinations sweeping the city. Comparisons to Jet Li's Black Mask (1996) and The Green Hornet are inevitable, but Andrew Lau's story of the avenging hero bears even more resemblance to Batman, seeing as how Chen Zhen gets help from Huang Bo's local police constable (a la Commissioner Gordon). Lau's film however refuses to rest easy on one genre, eager to exploit its historical backdrop to deliver an old- fashioned thriller.
And so his Shanghai is one abound with Japanese spies, even in wealthy businessman Liu Yiutian's (Anthony Wong) flashy nightclub Casablanca where Chen Zhen hangs out to observe the politicking among the Westerners and the Japanese. Lau uses the tension between the various camps to keep up a fair amount of intrigue throughout the film, especially as Chen Zhen's underground resistance movement struggles to keep ahead of the stronger and more organised Japanese forces.
Amidst the suspense, the script by no less than four writers (including producer Gordon Chan) also throws in a love story between Chen Zhen and nightclub singer Kiki (Shu Qi), but the addition that was supposed to provide emotional payoff falls far short. So too the relationships between the other characters in the film- whether Chen Zhen's bond with his sister and his compatriots, or his friendship with Liu Yutian. Indeed, these interactions are given short shrift, and Lau fails to delineate them as much as he fails in fleshing out the various characters.
That is a problem especially for Chen Zhen, whose motivations for leading the resistance- other than teaching the Japanese that "Chinese are not the sick men of Asia"- aren't exactly clear. It is also tricky because the audience is not led to feel the level of indignation as Chen Zhen is supposed to, the kind of indignation that made the Ip Man films so satisfying to watch at the end- so the climax between Chen Zhen and an entire dojo of Japanese students and their master just doesn't turn out as emotionally rewarding as one would expect it to.
Those looking for Donnie Yen to kick ass should also lower their expectations. Unlike the Ip Man films, Donnie doesn't get much time here to show off his agility and prowess- thanks to Lau's frenetic efforts to develop a script chock full of undercooked subplots. That is a pity, because one would certainly like to see more of the fast, furious and lethal action that Donnie has on display during the breathtaking opening sequence (to whet your appetite, Chen Zhen uses bayonet knives to take out a section of enemy soldiers on the second floor of a building, running at a 30-degree angle up a pole, and then using the knives to scale up the wall). There are just two more big action setpieces after this before the finale, but what visceral excitement Donnie generates in both is extinguished far too quickly.
For what he falls short in the martial arts sequences, Andrew Lau tries to make up for in flashy visuals and lush cinematography. As with his other films, the director who started out as an acclaimed cinematographer takes up lensing duties here and his photography of 1920s Shanghai is grand and opulent. Nevertheless, most audiences would probably prefer to see Donnie Yen's fighting than Lau's gorgeous cinematography, and will find the latter inadequate compensation for the former.
Fans of Donnie Yen however should still find reason to rejoice. Chen Zhen sees Donnie Yen at his most suave and charismatic (even looking convincingly like he can play a piano). He is also a much better actor now, and the dramatic scenes possess none of the awkwardness that used to dwarf his earlier films. Perhaps most importantly, the exhilarating action sequences show that he has lost none of his mettle as the best martial arts star in Chinese cinema right now. For a younger generation who may not have seen Bruce Lee and his nanchucks in the original "Fist of Legend", Donnie Yen's take on Chen Zhen is iconic enough to leave a lasting impression.
This year marks the 70th year of Bruce Lee's birth, arguably the best
martial artist the cinematic world has ever seen, with his short
filmography still continuing to wow audiences young and old. With
tribute screenings at the Hong Kong International Film Festival earlier
this year, and at the Tokyo International Film Festival later this
month, director Andrew Lau, writer Gordan Chan and leading kung-fu icon
of the moment Donnie Yen pay their collective tribute with Legend of
the Fist, taking one of the most memorable of Bruce Lee's characters
Chen Zhen and imagining a follow up story.
But wait, wasn't the final shot in Fist of Fury quite definitive? But as movie rules are concerned, nothing's canon if you don't see it, so a slew of gunshots count for nothing, passing it off as one of many rumours to discount his death, when in actual fact Chen Zhen (now with Yen picking up the mantle) is still alive and kicking, and sent packing to the WWI front in France to fight alongside his Chinese labourer compatriots against the Axis forces. It's an unsatisfactory explanation I know, but one of the rare blips in what I thought was a riveting story concocted that alas was let down by a clichéd ending that was too abrupt to be satisfying, leaving doors open for another film if it does happen.
Other than that, Legend of the Fist continues how Bruce Lee films were steeped in Chinese nationalism, only here it went with trumpets blaring with any given opportunity. Chen Zhen assumes a dead comrade's identity to return to Shanghai keeping jolly well under the Japanese's radar, where now the city in the early 20s gets carved up into settlements, with a microscopic representation of the internal chaos existing within the nightclub of influential Shanghainese businessman Liu Yiutian (Anthony Wong), with whom Chen Zhen befriends, for an ulterior motive of course, since he's now with the resistance, and the Casablanca club providing a hotbed of information as they plot and counterplot moves against the Japanese's brewing aggression.
Of late there's been a wave of such nationalistic movies that Donnie Yen tend to get involved in, such as Bodyguards and Assassins, and his more recent and successful Ip Man films, where Chinese people gather around a representative hero of their time to defeat foreign aggressors, where even in Ip Man 1, we see and expect the same mano-a-mano against a Japanese general who shows off his fair share of kung-fu knowhow. Like how many caricatures would be crafted in many more films that deal with that difficult period in Chinese history. While Yen had portrayed historical characters in those films, this one he continues with a fictional one made famous by a historical martial artist in Lee.
As a film steeped in paying homage to Lee, there are times where you feel the characters and action get shackled from freedom of expression, but this is not always a bad thing. I had followed Donnie Yen's career pretty early when he was still doing television serials for Hong Kong's ATV, where he played Chen Zhen in a storyline that had to mimic Fist of Fury, but expanded to include a romance with a Japanese woman. Like some television dramas that gets new lease of life on the big screen, it helped that Yen has experience in portraying the role other than a few others like Jet Li in another feature film that was a remake, but this one had the guts to continue where the film / series left off with a new spin.
While aspects of the Chen Zhen character were toned down probably because the character has to continue staying under the radar, gone are the high shrieks when he fights in the beginning (purists, please don't worry, you'll hear that toward the end), and got replaced by plenty of what I thought was MMA executed in brilliantly brutal fashion, starting with the prologue action sequence which had Chen Zhen being that one man soldier, followed by yet another nod in Bruce Lee's direction when dressed in a deliberate Kato costume. I'd say if not for his age, I'd give my vote to Yen if he were to be casted as Kato in the upcoming Green Hornet film in lieu of Jay Chou.
More Lee homages were to come, with the necessity to go shirtless in highlighting the chiseled physique that has its fair share of punishment, and what would be defining of Lee in Fist of Fury with the use of the nunchaks, although with all due respect to Yen, Lee is quite indomitable in this area, and the filmmakers here can only up the ante by throwing in a lot more goons to dispatch of in the same dojo from the earlier film. Yen took the action choreographer reins, and skillfully designed some spectacular fight sequences for action junkies to go wow over, balancing the homage aspects as well as coming up with some really violent, finishing moves to rid opponents. Watch this in a cinema with a proper sound system decked out will heighten that sense surround of being within the all round action.
The story's pretty much plain sailing with little surprises thrown in other than to present shifting loyalties in a tumultuous time, where Anthony Wong lends gravitas, Chinese actor Huang Bo providing comic relief as a corrupt policeman, and Shu Qi lending her vocals yet again as a club hostess already seen in films like Blood Brothers. While the story wouldn't be as iconic as Fist of Fury's, the fight action sequences lived up to its billing, and celebrated manifold the legend of Bruce Lee's instead.
Although the narrative gets convoluted at times, the historical setting
of the Chinese labor corps sent to aid the allied war effort during
world war 1 is historically factual (
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_Labour_Corps ), though it has been
the Chinese intelligentsia also successfully mounted pressure to cause Japan to delay full scale aggression until the 30s ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twenty-One_Demands )
this movie is essentially a big budget hong kong action movie produced as a homage to Bruce Lee. At times it strives to be too many homages at once with Donnie Yen resurrecting both Kato AND Chen Zhen ( Fist of Fury).
It shouldn't be conceived as Chinese propaganda (anymore than any of the Bruce Lee movies were) or anti-Japanese, as long as you understand that the Chinese truly were the underdogs back then.
in fact, the young Japanese actor playing the colonel totally stole the show.
The best thing about "Legend of the Fist" is that it features some of
the most spectacular acrobatic prowess to come from the great Donnie
Yen. Unfortunately, these moments of awe inspiring nirvana appear in
fits and starts after long, long moments of exposition.
If this movie had a strong story, like Donnie Yen's "Kill Zone" with it's engaging plot about police corruption and the consequences of pursuing vengeance, all this exposition could be forgiven. However, the story is about Yen playing a Zorro-like folk hero, who dresses like Bruce Lee in 'The Green Hornet'. What should be a rollicking adventure instead becomes a violent drama about China's occupation by the Japanese. Granted, Donnie Yen's best film, "Ip Man" was also about the Chinese occupation; but that film managed a perfect balance between drama and spectacular action.
I would almost dismiss "Legend of the Fist" altogether; but then Yen does a flip, a jump, a punch, a kick and my jaw hits the floor.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
High-production values here. They spent some money on this one. The
action starts in 1917 along the front-lines where Chen Zen(Donnie)
makes a name for himself. The action sequences in the opening moments
of the film are absolutely jaw-dropping. I really thought I was in for
Then LOTF(heehee) dives into the plot which is overdrawn, dull, and boring. There is very little character development, very little in terms of subplots, and very little action for the middle hour of this film. It's a shame too, because from the choreography to the effects, the action sequences might be some of the best ever put to film.
I could make a film about walking my dog around the block with more depth than this, and while that's not what I should expect from an action flick, I SHOULD expect a lot of action. If you take out the first and last ten minutes of the film there is 5 minutes of action(also incredible). Unfortunately, the wait is so long that it's not worth the wait.
I would watch the opening and ending till the DVD stops working, but I won't ever sit through this whole movie again.
Another fest of ass-kicking from Hong Kong superstar Donnie Yen, LEGEND
OF THE FIST is loosely based on the same legend as Bruce Lee's FIST OF
LEGEND and Jet Li's FIST OF LEGEND. Yen plays a masked freedom fighter
battling against imperial Japanese forces during their occupation of
Shanghai during the 1920s, and the film is a rousing, action-packed
slice of superlative entertainment.
Okay, so the action doesn't quite have the edge of the similar IP MAN and its sequel, but generally speaking it's very good indeed. There's a particular viciousness to the scenes involving Yen going around and battling or murdering his beleaguered city's oppressors, and an involved, conspiracy style-storyline means that nobody can truly be trusted. The ending, which builds to one final bout with the enemy, is predictable in the extreme but nonetheless crowd-pleasing and hugely entertaining.
Yen sleepwalks through his role a bit, having played this type of character loads over the years, but he's given strong support in the likes of established names such as Shawn Yue, Anthony Wong and Shu Qi. The fast-paced story is handled well by Andrew Lau's Infernal Affairs, who brings the same kind of twisty, gritty vitality to this story as he did with that hugely influential cops vs. gangsters movie. And, of course, there are lots and lots of scenes of Yen kicking ass as only he knows how, including a spectacular opening that celebrates the little-known Chinese role in WW1.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The good parts of this movie include using Shangahi in the 20's as the
backdrop for the romance between sultry lounge singer Shu Qi and world
weary veteran Donnie Yen at the Casablanca Club.
Targeted at the Chinese market however, the movie marches very quickly into mindless homages to Bruce Lee and the all consuming xenophobia & victimization themes we've become familiar with in modern Chinese movies.
The numerous racial epithets ("white skinned dogs", "f****g Japanese pigs) and Communist slogans about the Chinese people make for a tiresome soundtrack to the wire-fu and political conflict.
Jet Li's version of the story "Fist of Legend" is said to be far better.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
LEGEND OF THE FIST boasts some topnotch production values: in the opening scenes, Donnie Yen as the superhuman Chen Zhen makes short work of the Germans in France during WWI- with the aid of wirework and cgi. When WWII rolls around, Yen, laying low as a piano player in a Shanghai nightclub, antagonizes the occupying Japanese- and then snatches a chauffeur's black leather outfit and mask from a storefront dummy (part of a display for a movie titled THE MASKED WARRIOR) and kicks some butt. The outfit is, of course, yet another copy of Bruce Lee's costume from THE GREEN HORNET. Jet Li donned same in THE BLACK MASK, another Bruceploitation flick from yesteryear. Going Li one better, LEGEND OF THE FIST also borrows liberally from Li's own FIST OF LEGEND. It's enough to make one's head spin. As is the wonky wirework we see here (again). Far too much time is spent on posturing and partying and talking before this latest Bruceploitation propaganda flick kicks into high gear- and, when it does, it's much too little and it comes much too late to save this one. When Yen does his impression of Bruce Lee during The Big Finale, it's unintentionally hilarious. And I thought these kind of movies had finally run their course. Guess not...
Saw this at London preview.
This is a loose sequel to Bruce Lee's Fist of Fury. Its not important to know that but if you are a fan of Bruce Lee, you will enjoy Donny Yen's sometimes blatant impression of Bruce Lee's nuances and war cries. If you aren't familiar with Bruce Lee, than a certain fight sequence may look a bit bewildering! There is a fascinating story to be told here with some interesting sub plots and bizarrely evolving into a comic book superhero flick. Unfortunately, it makes for a complete mess. I wont totally blame the director for that, that's an editor's job to maintain a narrative flow. The potential is there for this to work but unfortunately it just seems to me that couldn't bind it all together, or they were in a hurry to complete the film because it all seemed rushed.
However, the film is sumptuous to watch in its period settings, and the 2 leads are charismatic enough to carry the film. There is a sprinkle of humour that gave me chuckles though some were unintentional.
But the real star of the film is Donny Yen. As he gets older, he has even more star presence than ever before and when he fights, you can always feel his punches and awesome kicks. The action scenes are adrenaline pumping, visceral, with a stylish visual flair. These alone are worth the price of admission.
I would watch this again, and maybe next time I can piece a few more pieces of the story together.
Overall, see it for the brilliance of Donny Yen action and if you actually followed the story and enjoyed it, then good for you!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
What this is, is a Chinese superhero movie. Where the Japanese soldiers
are the bad guys and the Chinese rebels and fighters are the good guys.
Some may view this is a anti-Japanese movie, but it's based on the
oppression of the Chinese people by the Japanese in the past. So in a
way it's historically true during World War 1. Not the whole Chinese
superhero stuff but you know what I mean. Now I personally like Bruce
Lee, I think he is a pioneer for these Kung-fu movie and was a legit
martial artist and philosopher. So I really liked how this is a homage
to him. I also loved "Fist of Legend" which I personally think is one
of the best martial arts movie out there. This one however just didn't
flow very well when it came to the story. It was just boring babbling
with things going all over the place. The cool Donnie Yen fight
sequences doesn't really make up for it. Sure, most people don't watch
a martial arts movie for a amazing story. But the story was just
boring, the build up to the final fight sort of made it worth it...Sort
of. But the trust and betrayal elements just wasn't impactful and
didn't really seem to go anywhere. I really wanted this movie to at
least be entertaining, but it just really wasn't because of the flow of
it all. Overall this is a corny Chinese superhero movie that is maybe
worth a rental at best.
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