Monday, 3 January 2011

REVIEW: LEGEND OF THE FIST: THE RETURN OF CHEN ZHEN (DVD)


Film: The Legend Of The Fist: The Return Of Chen Zhen ****
Release date: 3rd December 2010
Running time: 105 mins
Director: Andrew Lau
Starring: Donnie Yen, Shu Qi, Anthony Wong, Huang Bo, Zhou Yang
Genre: Action/Drama/History/Martial Arts
Studio: Metrodome
Format: DVD
Country: Hong Kong/China
Reviewer: Adam Wing

Was there ever a chance I might dislike this movie? Not only does it star the biggest action hero in the film industry today, but my favourite leading lady puts in a to-die-for appearance too. Add further support from the ever reliable Anthony Wong, a sprinkling of over-stylised direction from Andrew Lau and come on, seriously - was there ever a chance I might dislike this movie?

Legend of the Fist is a re-imagination of the legendary Chinese folk hero Chen Zhen. Bruce Lee famously created the character in his 1972 masterpiece Fist of Fury, and of course, Jet Li starred in Gordon Chan's acclaimed 1994 remake Fist of Legend. Donnie himself played the character in a 1995 TV series, but instead of doing a straightforward remake, here he teams up with writer/producer Gordon Chan to further the story of Chen Zhen, turning the furious avenger into a World War I veteran, secret agent, and masked kung fu superhero.

Sound ridiculous? Which part of ‘this is Donnie Yen movie’ do you not understand? For those of you interested by the way, I am pleased to report that Donnie does indeed remove his shirt for the final showdown. There are some things you can always rely upon. Not even Donnie can hold a film together on his own though, actually that’s a lie, but I have a point to make here so bare with me. Despite the fact that Donnie takes on 150 challengers in an unforgettable dojo showdown, sometimes even the Yen-Meister needs a little support from his friends. It’s a good job that an award-winning cast are on stand-by, including the likes of Huang Bo, Huo Siyan, Shawn Yue, Kohata Ryu and Fist of Legend's Kurata Yasuaki.

After avenging the death of his murdered master Huo Yuanjia, Chen Zhen (Donnie Yen) disappeared and was supposedly dead. He actually left China to join the Allied war effort on the European battlefields, I say Allied, even at times of war the Chinese were mistreated by their comrades. Seven years later, Chen Zhen returns to Shanghai in order to infiltrate Club Casablanca, whose owner Tycoon Liu (Anthony Wong) is suspected of collusion with the Japanese. You guessed it... it’s those pesky Japanese again.

He soon wins the trust of Liu, and even finds the time to fall in love with adorable club singer Kiki (who wouldn’t, I mean, Shu Qi). Meanwhile, Japanese general Chikaraishi (Kohata Ryu) comes to Shanghai, subjecting the city to his evil reign of terror. I did mention that he’s Japanese, right? Donning a familiar black mask to avoid exposing his real identity, Chen Zhen secretly works with police captain/comic relief guy Huang (Huang Bo) to protect the Chinese patriots from the Japanese assassins/bad guys. How does he do this, you might ask? Well he kicks ass, unequivocally. Welcome to Donnie Yen in full-on attack mode, and a few words of warning folks - if you’re not Chinese, you’re not getting out alive.

Your enjoyment of Legend of the Fist - The Return of Chen Zhen very much depends upon the expectations you take in with you. If you’re expecting anything more than the kind of entertainment Donnie Yen has been providing us with over the last ten years, there’s a good chance you’re coming away disappointed. Ip Man offered a refreshing alternative for the most part, suggesting perhaps that Yen can do subtle as well as bold as brass, it helped of course that the character he portrayed was reserved and thoughtful.

I’m not saying Chen Zhen isn’t thoughtful, he clearly puts a lot of planning into his footwork, but this is definitely more familiar territory for Yen fanatics. He kicks ass, apes Bruce Lee, takes his shirt off whenever he gets the chance, and is poised like a spider at all times, ready to attack. The action choreography is provided by, you guessed it, and for the most part it’s uncompromising and brutal. Andrew Lau’s direction is as flashy as you might expect, but it works. There are signs of political intrigue and stirring drama to be found if you take the time to look for them, but for the most part they are lost beneath a wave of bone crunching fisticuffs and ass-whoopery.

Performances are solid throughout, but in truth, the characters could’ve been lifted from any number of similar action movies, such is the lack of depth and development. Anthony Wong, Shu Qi and Huang Bo get plenty of screen time, but we don’t really learn anything about them beyond initial investment. Shu Qi’s Kiki has a major part to play in the films denouement, and the twist in the tale should’ve been handled a whole lot better, but her part in proceedings is all too obvious from the word go.

Then there’s the casual racism that occasionally graces a Donnie Yen picture these days, I’m not saying that Donnie Yen is a racist, but his movies of late do adorn to the rule that all foreigners are evil. Let’s make one thing clear at this juncture; we all know that not to be the case. Not all foreigners are evil. Except the Germans of course. The Germans are all pretty much evil, but to say that we’re all action movie clich├ęs is a tad irresponsible.

The set design however is exquisite, much of the production was filmed at the same location as last year’s Bodyguard and Assassins, a move that ensures Andrew Lau’s Legend of the Fist certainly looks the part. A case of style over substance perhaps, but when has that ever stopped us from loving a Donnie Yen picture? The period backdrop is welcome, as is the fine support (Shu Qi we salute you). Andrew Lau’s direction occasionally feels empty but hey, if you ever need a man to fill that space, Donnie Yen’s the go-to guy for kiss ass candy covered confectionary. The action choreography is first class, and Donnie Yen delivers the kind of thrills and spills we have come to expect from the shirtless wonder.

Legend of the Fist won’t change the world, but there’s a good chance it will kick it out of shape for a while, and sometimes that’s really all you need for a lightweight, entertaining night in.

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