Jet Li’s Fearless Review
By Shawn McKenzie 09/26/2006
In 1910, in Shanghai China, Huo Yuanjia (Jet Li) is participating in one of the first competitions for the Jingwu Sports Federation, an organization dedicated to teaching the poetry of the Wushu martial arts. Yuanjia is to take on four challengers…all from countries around the world and each specializing in their brand of Wushu. He fights against a British boxer named Peter Smith (Jean Claude Leuyer), a German spear fighter named Hans (Brandon Rhea), and a Spanish swordsman named Anthony (Anthony De Longis)…easily defeating them all. When he goes against a Japanese fighting champion named Anno Tanaka (Nakamura Shido), Yuanjia flashes back 30 years to when he was a child (Lu Yuhao, Yuanjia as a child) in the province of Tianjin, China. His best friend is a bookish nerd named Nong Jinsun (Zhu Qilong), and he expresses his wish to Nong to be a Wushu master. His father, Huo Endi (Collin Chou), was a Wushu master, but he didn’t want his asthmatic son to follow in his footsteps, so he refused to teach him. His mother, Qijing Bao (Paw Hee-Ching) understands his desire to learn Wushu…but she wants him to realize that the art is not one of revenge, but to control his rage, for the sake of morality, and to help others and gain their respect. Yuanjia secretly trains himself by watching Endi’s Wushu classes to his students. One day, Yuanjia and Nong watch Endi compete with a man named Zhou Zhong Qiang (Zhigang Zhao.) Endi loses because he refuses to deliver a fatal blow to Zhou (they were required to sign death waivers before the match.) This ticks off Yuanjia, because he had been bragging to Zhou’s son (Shang Yapeng) that his dad would easily defeat Zhou. He challenges the younger Zhou (Zhou is a last name, and so I’m going to keep calling him Zhou from now on, instead of “Zhou’s son”) to a fight, and Zhou beats the crap out of him. Yuanjia vows that it will be the last time that this will ever happen. Years later, Yuanjia has become “The Champion of Tianjin” according to everyone, including the town idiot (He Ju), who keeps chanting the title. He has a cute little daughter named Jade (Xu Ailing), and he has become a drunk with many disciples. He will fight anyone, including the adult Zhou (Scott Ma.) One night, at the restaurant of his now adult friend Nong (Dong Yong), one of his disciples comes to Yuanjia and claims that he was badly beaten by a man named Master Chin (Chen Zhihui.) Without thought, Yuanjia confronts Chin at his birthday party in front of his family, including Chin’s godson (Jacky Heung.) He fights and kills Chin, but finds out later that it was all a misunderstanding. He feels guilty about killing Chin, but he becomes distraught when Chin’s godson kills Jade and Qijing Bao in retaliation. Yuanjia wanders the countryside and tries to drown himself in a river. A blind girl named Moon (Betty Sun) and her Grandma (Qu Yun) save his life and take care of him back in their farming village. Moon nicknames him “Ox,” and he learns the calming ways of the villagers. He soon desires to revisit the graves of his family, so he leaves…promising Moon that he will return someday. He goes home to find that Tianjin is a lively city now. He apologizes to Nong for destroying his restaurant during the Chin fight, and together they form the Jingwu Sports Federation. In order to gain funding for the Federation, Yuanjia challenges a huge American fighter named Hercules O’Brien (Nathan Jones), who recently made the papers by calling Chinese men “The Weakmen of the East.” They fight, and Hercules loses, but the strongman gains Yuanjia’s respect…which is what Qijing Bao taught him. This leads to the events in the beginning of the movie.
I will admit that I haven’t seen all of Jet Li’s films like other fans of the martial arts expert. Like many Americans, I was introduced to Li through his role as a bad guy in 1998’s Lethal Weapon 4. Since then, I have seen 2000’s Romeo Must Die, 2001’s Kiss of the Dragon and The One, 2003’s Cradle 2 the Grave, and 2005’s Unleashed. I haven’t seen 2004’s Hero or any of his Once Upon a Time in China movies. Now, Li has said that his latest movie, Fearless, will be his last movie using his signature Wushu style. I think that it will be a great way to go out.
Even though it has action, it has many calm moments. The most significant example of that was a scene where Yuanjia realized that he had to calm down while planting crops, like the other plantation workers. It was many things like that which made it stand out from many other martial arts flicks.
The story may have been a little routine (one of the things that made Li decide to retire from such revenge stories), but for some reason, I liked it. I might be burned though by The Protector, which came out a couple of weeks ago. That movie had some cool action, but it had a lame story. I know that the story in this movie is loosely based on the real life Huo Yuanjia, so that might explain the more entertaining aspect (a grandson of Yuanjia is suing the producers and he is demanding an apology because he feels they grossly misrepresented the man.) I think that the movie might be one of the best representations of the Wushu philosophy, which, according to Li, means “stop fighting.”
I liked Li’s acting as well as his martial arts skills, but there is someone else in the movie I’m going to keep an eye on. Jones was the hulking giant in 2004’s Troy and the hulking giant in The Protector, but even though he played another hulking giant here as well…he included a brief stint of acting thrown in here. I think that he might be worth watching as a lead in an action movie (as a good guy.)
Director Ronny Wu returned to the world of foreign language movies with Jet Li’s Fearless after helming two American horror movie sequels (1998’s Bride of Chucky, 2003’s Freddy vs. Jason) and the surprisingly bland 2001 Samuel L. Jackson action comedy The 51st State. He is becoming like Ang Lee by not pigeonholing himself in a specific genre…which I like. As for Li, he hasn’t given up action. He will be playing an assassin of the partner of Jason Statham’s cop character in next year’s Rogue…so he will be getting back to a bad guy role again for the first time since LW4. Maybe Li and Wu will make another movie together in a genre that doesn’t involve action (as long as it isn’t a story about Li falling in love with a sheepherder in Wyoming.)
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