Publicity Stills of "Fearless"
(Courtesy from BVI)

Genre: Action
Director: Ronny Yu
Starring: Jet Li, Nakamura Shido, Collin Chou, Shun Li
RunTime: 1 hr 45 mins
Released By: BVI
Rating: NC-16

Official Website: www.fearlessthemovie.com

Opening Day: 26 January 2006 (Chinese New Year Blockbuster!)

Synopsis :

Based on the life of Martial Artsmaster Huo Yuanjia (1868-1910), this biopic is set during the late 1800's to early 1900's, a pivotal period in China's history, when the whole country is shrouded under increasing internal turmoil and the imminent threat of foreign invasion.

Huo Yuanjia begins the story as a cocky, young Martial Arts practitioner with only one thing in his mind, to become the best at his craft at all costs. His quest eventually leads to a tragedy when he mistakenly kills an opponent whose disciples consequently slaughter Huo's whole family for revenge. A distraught and heartbroken Huo flees to the countryside, determined to abandon everything he ever wanted and believed in. He then spends considerable time in a remote mountain village anonymously, where he relearned all the things that matter in life while taking refuge with an old lady and her half blind granddaughter. He returns to the city to make amends with his turbulent past, and gets swept up in a violent, fight to the death Martial Arts tournament to defend China's honor against foreign aggressors.

Movie Review:

Fearless (or Huo Yuan Jia in Chinese) is the latest and perhaps his last Wushu film by Jet Li. The motivation for Jet Li behind this film production came about from the recent high suicide rates among the youth in China. Feeling dismayed about how little regard the youth have of their own lives, Jet Li set out to inspire the youths to live their lives with a stronger spirit, very much like what the legendary martial artist, Huo Yuan Jia, did in his lifetime.

Huo Yuan Jia was the famous Chinese martial artist who defeated foreign martial artists in highly publicized matches during when China was “overwhelmed” by the European and Japanese’s “invasion”. It was during this time when many foreigners labeled Chinese as the “Sick Men of Asia” and through the highly publicized matches that he won over the foreigners, Huo Yuan Jia helped to instill the confidence and pride back to the Chinese citizens.

The reveled man went on with the foundation of Jing Wu Men or Jing Wu Athletic Association in Shanghai, which aimed to spread the concepts and virtues of Wushu to his countrymen. His name saw another bout of revival when Bruce Lee played one of his disciples in “Fist of Fury” which made him one of the better well-known personalities among the Chinese.

Jet Li (The One & Unleashed) together with Director Ronny Yu (Freddy Vs Jason & Bride of Chucky) and action choreographer Yuen Woo-ping (The Matrix franchise & Kill Bill) had all returned from their tour of duties in the USA to create the movie Fearless to bring the life of this legendary man life back on screen again.

The results from the trio was a rather mix bag.

Let’s start with the action sequences. By the sheer mention of Jet Li and Yuen Woo-Ping names, high expectations of the action sequences are expected. The fight scenes between Huo Yuan Jia and his many opponents are the usual spectacular Jet Li and Yuen Woo-Ping stuff that brought them to fame throughout the world. There is nothing wrong with it but then again there isn’t any real breakthrough or fight sequences that will becomes a classic moment in the long stream of Kungfu movies to come. One also does get bored after seeing the same manner of fights conducted over and over again even if the actions are well executed.

The storyline and characterization was also weakened when the screen time focused too much on the fighting sequences in Fearless instead of building the plots and characters. It started out well with the young Huo Yuan Jia who has a strong yearning for martial arts but was banned by his father who ran a martial arts school as the young Huo Yuan Jia was suffering from asthma.

But then the movie skipped from how the young Huo Yuan Jia who was shamefully defeated by another young ward from a rival clan in a sparring match to being married with a daughter and becoming a undefeated Wushu champion in his hometown. Omitting an interesting actual events on what Huo Yuan Jia did to convince his father to coach him Wushu and in a way denying the audience to grow with this character.

Instead, it jumps to a number of tournaments that witnesses the increasing arrogance of the undefeated Huo Yuan Jia and soon tragedy strikes the Wushu champion, forcing him to rethink his actions and goals in life. However the retreat that Huo Yuan Jia took was too short and lacks of strong philosophical lessons to build on a convincing transformation of a bashful young man to a wiser martial art master.

Overall, Jet Li’s intention to use this movie as a motivation for today’s youth was commendable. However the execution was not that well carried off and the message that Jet Li wanted to bring across could be lost in the midst of seemly endless bouts of fights. A rather surprising choice for a Chinese New Year film as the movie endings felt bleak and sad even thought the underlying message is doing the best with the uncertainties in life. It’s won’t be a Jet Li classic that it’s been hyped up to be but then it’s a decent movie that’s worth going for.

Movie Rating:

(Fearless is not Jet Li’s finest moment but for a Chinese New Year movie, it’s more than sufficient to entertain)

Review by Richard Lim Jr

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