In action movies, the fight scenes need to be intense and impactful. You need to empathize with the pain of seeing someone getting punched or kicked in the film. Many of Jet Li's movies, such Once Upon A Time in China or Fong Sai Yuk, the fight scenes lack that intensity and impact. Rather, what you're watching is more akin to watching a martial arts ballet. Now, this is good for high-conceptual movies like Hero, or Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon where the violence is more intellectual than visceral.
To marry martial arts ballet into an action movie is like watching a team of soccer players doing the Dance Of The Sugar Plum Fairy in the middle of a soccer match - it's just not right no matter how you look at it. Which is why many of Jet Li's movies don't quite work; Jet Li is martial arts ballet, not a martial arts fighter.
But Fist Of Legend is the first and best instance, where you actually witness Jet Li the fighter, and it's glorious.
For those don't already know, Fist Of Legend is a loose remake and a homage to Bruce Lee's Fist of Fury, as well as being a very distant sequel I would argue, to Yuen Woo Ping's underrated 1982 masterpiece Legend of a Fighter. The story is about Chen Zhen, a student of the murdered Fok Yun Kap (Hou Yuen-Jia in Mandarin), who wishes to avenge his teacher.
While Fist of Fury was good in it's own right, Fist of Legend expands upon the premise. Fist of Fury like many it's Chinese contemporaries, opted to portray any and all non-Chinese as 'the bad guys': very one dimensional, no depth, basically just an excuse for violence. Fist of Legend opted to showcase the spectrum and complexity of humanity. There are good people and there are bad people, regardless of what nationality, or race, or tribe, or culture you belong to.
This gives the movie so much more depth and the conflict between Chen Zhen, torn between his Japanese lover and his loyalty to his race, making him immediately more relatable and lifelike. Jet Li wears the role of Chen Zhen superbly, and I would argue that his interpretation of Chen Zhen is better than Bruce Lee's, and is the standard of other Chen Zhen interpretations after.
In fact, the acting all around is great. Chin Siu Ho is great as the Huo Ting Yan, the son and successor to the Jingwu school. He gives a credible performance of a man coming to terms with his own inadequacies. Also starring is Yasuaki Kurata (the schoolteacher in Legend of a Fighter). His role I admit, is somewhat contrived because it doesn't have any bearing towards the main plot, but his character Funakochi Fumio, the best warrior of the Dragon Clan, is not wasted.
Fumio is a character that represents what ideally martial arts should be, and Kurata's fight scene with Jet Li, is, the highlight of the film; creative, dynamic, explosive, inventive, visceral, philosophical and all-round entertaining. And for those that have already watched Legend of a Fighter, there's more than 1 or 2 easter egg reference to that movie.
And that, really the action scenes are the main reason why you should watch this film. It. Is. Glorious. There is no bad nor weak fight scenes here; everything is high class, fast-paced action that makes you wince in pain when somebody gives or takes a hit.
The movie has flaws though. Billy Chow is imposing as Fujita, but Fujita could've been fleshed out better. And the prostitute Rose is a completely unnecessary character and a forced plot device in the movie, but these two things are minor gripes compared to the quality of the movie as a whole.
As I stated in the title, this is Jet Li's best action movie. Recommended.
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