Genre: Action/Martial Arts
Director: Andrew Lau
Cast: Donnie Yen, Shu Qi, Anthony Wong, Huang
Bo, Zhou Yang, Huo Si Yan, Kohata Ryuichi, Yasuaki Kurata, Shawn
RunTime: 1 hr 46 mins
Released By: Shaw
Rating: NC-16 (Violence)
Official Website: http://www.mediaasia.com/legendofthefist/
Opening Day: 23 September 2010
While China is traumatized by military cliques
during the World War era in the 1020s, Shanghai is the cynosure
of all eyes. People see it as both Hell’s Kitchen and
Heaven’s Gate/ One of the city’s most memorable
heroes has to be Chen Zhen, who single-handedly avenges his
mentor’s death by killing all the Japanese at a dojo
in Hongkou, only to be showered with bullets while making
his legendary flying kick. Vanished from the public eye ever
since, he has been taken dead though his body is never found.
years later, a wealthy entrepreneur called Koo returns from
abroad and makes a grand entrance on the Shanghai social scene
by befriending the notorious mafia boss of the city. This
mysterious man is none other than Chen Zhen in disguise who
dwells in a world of nefarious means in order to infiltrate
the criminal empire. He soon discovers a clandestine collusion
between the mafia and the Japanese.
Disguised as a caped crusader at night, Chen sets out to dismantle
with his martial arts skill the evil collusion that plaques
the country. One of his foremost missions is to ferret out
the assassination list prepared by the Japanese.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
(Donnie Yen’s fighting is just as thrilling
and exhilarating, but Andrew Lau’s film is muddled in
half-cooked subplots and poorly delineated characters)
Review by Gabriel Chong