Andrew Lau and reigning Chinese martial arts superstar Donnie Yen team up in another chapter in the life of Chen Zhen, the student of Chinese folk hero Huo Yuan Jia (whose life was portrayed in Jet Li's Fearless) in “LEGEND OF THE FIST: The Return of Chen Zhen“ (2010). The character of Chen Zhen is quite a flamboyant one, since he has been played by the legendary Bruce Lee in “Fist of Fury” (aka. Chinese Connection), by Jet Li in “Fist of Legend” and more recently by Yen himself in the TV series “Fist of Fury”. This time around, Lau and Yen takes a different spin on the righteous martial arts hero; this time around he had survived the Japanese attack and has fought in World War One against the Germans. In a way, one may see this as a sequel to both Bruce Lee’s film and Jet Li’s “Fist of Legend” with some new twists and turns.
Shanghai in 1935; a China divided by political and economic turmoil. Chen Zhen (Donnie Yen) returns under the name of a fallen comrade in Europe and secretly works under a small Chinese resistance group against the advancing Japanese army. Chen works under the wing of club owner Master Liu (Anthony Wong, Exiled) and charms his way to his confidence with the name of Qi Tianyuan. He immediately becomes a partner in his “Casablanca” club whose main draw is a beautiful singer/hostess named Kiki (Shu Qui, So Close). Unbeknownst to everyone, KiKi is a spy (not to worry, this is not a spoiler) who works for the new leader of the Honkou Dojo called Colonel Chikaraishi (Ryuichi Kohata, City of Life and Death) which was humiliated by Chen before. The Chinese faction is about to be attacked by the more dominant Japanese army…what can Chen Zhen do amid all this hate?
Andrew Lau has taken a few doses of history and reality as with “Fist of Fury” and “Fist of Legend” and twists things around with fiction and action in order to deliver popcorn fodder. There’s quite a list of metaphorical themes here as well as certain elements that comes close to actual history. The political tensions between Chinese and Japanese factions, the spies who become too close for comfort, the death list made by the Japanese to secure their power and the triad connections of Master Liu. The direction struggles at times to develop each subplot, but one has to remember that these themes are just set pieces to have the movie focus on the martial arts fights. Such a shame really, since there is enough possible intricacies here to make a compelling story without Lau and company relying on style and fights.
The characters in “Legend of the Fist” are quite simple, there aren’t too many layers about them that one would know what they are about. Characterization is quite low, and I have to say some of them were quite underused. Shu Qui has enough charm, star presence and acting ability to command her own film and here she seems reduced to playing a leading lady for Donnie Yen. Anthony Wong gives his character a lot of zest but his screen time is very limited compared to the comedic antics of Huang Bo, who plays a bumbling cop called Inspector Huang. The bad guys were limited to doing, well, evil deeds and I am not sure, I didn’t exactly find myself disliking them since they were underdeveloped. I suppose Lau wanted a period action film bent on delivering stare downs, cool posturing to support the action set pieces and fight scenes.
As for the action, well, Donnie Yen is his usual over-acting self and I was sorry to say that this role is a step backward after his great dramatic performance in IP MAN. Yen doesn’t seem to be really in his element in the dramatic scenes, but he does maintain the presence of a great martial artist. The action was good but you knew right away that Chen Zhen was going to win the day; the action lacked real drama and suspense; but they were done with cool set designs. I found the “masked warrior” thing a little out of place and seems like a mere tribute to both Bruce’s “Kato” and Jet’s “Black Mask” characters. Perhaps it was also Lau’s way of capitalizing on the super-hero craze that have engulfed movie theaters; but for me, it was just too much style that proved unnecessary. The impetus of Chen’s super-hero masquerade is a mere device and not a significant part of the narrative. Donnie Yen is being his usual self with his very own fight choreography and aided by Lau’s flashy camerawork, the film has loads of style as Chen mows down his opponents with ease as with the character’s other appearances in different films. Curiously, Yen channels Bruce Lee far more than Jet Li as he does quite a lot of tribute action shots.
I suppose one can’t really hate “Legend of the Fist” as long as one knows what he is in for. The film is a popcorn action flick meant to display coolness and over-the-top moments (enter the angry fist), some scenes are silly and the direction does quite a lot of tonal shifts and it never focuses on whatever footing its gotten from its aces. There is some laziness in the film, but perhaps Lau never wanted the film to be anything more than an entertaining escapist flick that lacks a compelling story and inspiration; but it was disappointing to see a potential nationalist theme go nowhere as the film does show Chinese fighting against Japanese imperialism and there was a great moment where Huang Bo‘s speech to a British inspector touched a nerve. I guess if all you need is action then this film delivers, but it just could have been so much more. It comes off as another by-the-numbers Donnie Yen actioner.
Timid Recommendation to Action Junkies [3+ Out of 5 Stars]
Trailer LEGEND OF THE FIST THE RETURN OF CHEN ZHEN I will come out and admit it right now; I am a Donnie Yen fan and big one at that. Yen has more than proven himself as a martial artist in films and what more can you ask for? Well you can ask for more than that I do realize so don't get me wrong. Yen has been known in the acting world for over acting a bit but that is more than fine in the … more
I love the time period of the film and the dark look of the film was well executed. Of course the fight scenes are great and when a certain police officer finally has enough it may just be one of the best scenes in the flick. I do recommend this movie to any one reading this because you may like it more than I did plus there are some very cool moments here. Also the music is excellent here.