It was the fourth entry in a tired Hollywood action series that brought him to the attention of western audiences, and Jet Li was the only lethal weapon coming out of that particular soap opera with his reputation intact. Since then, Li has made several wrong turns in Hollywood, but it’s good to know his Asian film career continues to provide genuine crowd-pleasers.
A remake of Bruce Lee’s Fist of Fury sounds like a bad idea on paper, but we are talking about Jet at the top of his game here. Gordon Chan calls the shots, Yuen Woo-ping directs the action and Li beats down on anyone and anything that gets in his way.
Fist of Legend opens with Chen Zhen (Jet Li) studying in Japan. We learn that his homeland has been devastated by Japanese occupation, and his once proud martial arts academy has fallen into disarray following the death of its Master; he lost his life under suspicious circumstances against a member of the Japanese Black Dragon Clan.
Chen Zhen returns home and challenges the killer to a fight, and it’s not long before he realises that something is amiss. After that, Li takes on both the world and its shadow, kicking and punching his way into cinematic legend. If you want to know why Li is considered one of the greatest action heroes in the world today, Fist of Legend is the best place to start.
Kurata Yasuaki joins him in battle, playing the part of Chen Zhen’s teacher, and it’s their face-off that provides the film with its most astonishing sequence. Li adopts several fighting styles throughout, utilising props and weaponry while showcasing his undeniable athleticism and screen prowess. Want to see Jet take on a swarm of Japanese fighters? We can do that. Want to see Li battle his opponent wearing a blindfold? Guess we’ve got that covered too.
Chan adds layers of depth to the mix, saddling Chen Zhen with a Japanese love interest (Nakayma Shinobu) and touching on themes of racial discrimination. It’s well intentioned but acts as padding; he’ll have to try a lot harder if he wants to distract from the kick-ass carnage and fight choreography. I doubt there will be many who remember Fist of Legend for its weak attempts at sentiment. What they will remember, however, is a time when Jet Li was the master of action cinema.
When he was considered a hero by half of Asia, before he went rogue and Hollywood made him pretty much expendable. Once upon a time in China Jet Li was the legend - the one - and this is your chance to discover the truth for yourselves. When it comes to action cinema you can forget the dragon emperor and the mummy, with Fist of Legend Jet Li proves himself the daddy of them all. See what I did there? AW