Sunday, 13 July 2008

Fist of Legend (1994)

(This film is based on the Bruce Lee film Chinese Connection/Fist of Fury, and maybe I should really watch the original before saying anything about the remake. Oh well:)

In the year 1931, during the Japanese occupation of Shanghai, Chen Zhen (Jet Li) is studying in Japan. One day he hears that his master in the legendary kung fu school Jing Wu has suddenly died in a match. He immediately goes back home, and it seems that his master was, in fact, poisoned ...

Is it a tale of sweet Chinese fighting against evil Japanese colonialist oppression? No, hang on, it's not all that black and white. Chen Zhen not only studies in Japan, but he has a Japanese girlfriend called Mitsuko. And all Japanese, except the insane toad-like General Fujita (Billy Chow), are portrayed as normal human beings, many of them even very nice human beings. At the same time, many Chinese are portrayed unfavourably, not least as being unfairly biased against all Japanese.

The film's message is "if you learn to be fluent, to adapt, you'll always be unbeatable". This, of course, not only applies to martial arts, but to life in general.

A good martial arts film is much like a good porn film - there shouldn't be too much 'fill-out' time between the actual action scenes, as the reason you watch it isn't the story, but the Kung Fu. At the same time, the 'fill-out' time should tie the film together and make for a coherent plot. In this sense, Fist of Legend is perfect. Not one minute is wasted, and the plot is actually not too silly.

Martial arts:
The martial arts in this film are the best I've seen so far in any film. A number of different styles, and mixtures of them, are shown here. They are beautifully filmed, not least the 'sparring' with Mitsuko's uncle, without being *too* artificial. There's some whipping fun to be had at the big showdown with the general, too ...

The women in Jing Wu, strangely, can't fight, and the male members have to protect them. That's really stupid. The main love interest Mitsuko is afraid of mice, but then, she is gutsy and has plenty of self-esteem, and she saves her loverboy's ass many times.

Mitsuko is afraid of mice ...

Hunk factor:
With all the Japanese guys in handsome hakama, it might not be so easy for Jet Li to keep up. To make it worse, he has a slightly silly haircut. But since his character always seems able to keep his suits and shirts clean and wrinkle-free, he is still a feast to the eye.