Action / Martial Arts
Jet Li's Fearless
Distributed by Rogue Pictures
Running Time: 1 hour, 43 minutes
by Jon Minners
There comes a time when those who attend a movie truly get their moneyís worth. They walk in to the theater, drop $10 and walk out feeling like they owe money. Itís a film that doesnít only leave your chest pumping from the adrenaline like the film Crank; itís a film that does not suck you in with likeable characters who consumers want to cheer for like in Invincible; itís not a film that brings a tear to your eye, like Crash or has you sitting on the edge of your seat like Skeleton Key. No, Jet Li's Fearless, the movie that will be Jet Liís first epic martial arts performance, accomplished it all and o much more.
This is not your typical Saturday morning kung-fu film on Channel 5 like Shaolin Invincibles or Five Fingers of Death, which like porn, is a film devoid of stories, and only created to include every different possible type of action scene that will appeal to the bloodthirsty action fan in everyone, who wishes they could talk with a dubbed voice while making incredible sounds just with a quick shift of the arms. No, if those films are like porn, then Jet Liís Fearless is Boogie Knights, a great film that legitimizes the art of a kung-fu flick. Just shy of such films as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or House of Flying Daggers, but more like Jet Li's Hero; Jet Liís Fearless is an epic film that is made like any other great movie and just happens to contain some of the most well choreographed and fluid fight scenes amongst the most beautiful landscapes to mirror ancient China in the early 1900ís when this film is set.
Jet Li plays a historic figure, as he did in Hero. In Fearless, he plays Huo Yuanjia, a man who fought for power and respect, trying to surpass his father; a former champion who was dethroned in battle. Due to his unwillingness to teach Huo his brand of Wushu Kung-Fu, the youngster vows to learn on his own and overcome the shame he felt by his fatherís loss. But even as he vanquishes one opponent after another, Huo never finds true happiness and his growing pride leads to a fight that changes his life.
Left with nothing, Huo goes crazy and becomes a pitiful version of his former self, until someone picks him up from the depths of despair and teaches him more than he could ever learn in battle. His lessons come amongst one of the most tranquil and beautiful settings I have seen all year in a film. Huo returns a better man, now fighting for the honor of his country at a time when America and the Western world unite in an attempt to influence the country and remove them from tradition. Huoís answer; the Jingwu Sports Federation Ė a united front made up of all Wushu disciples, no longer fighting one another, but together for a common cause.
Huo must prove himself against the best from other countries, including one battle that just seemed strangely reminiscent of the Rocky Balboa vs. Hulk Hogan in Rocky 3. The movie starts and concludes with a tournament that forces Huo to battle four different competitors in a fight he wants to win, not just to prove his dominance, but to earn respect where there is not.
This is an exciting movie made up of so many intense fight scenes that never get old. Each battle showcases a different type of choreography and, in some cases, various weapons, creating a unique feel to each battle along with a different danger for Liís character each time out. Li is truly a master of his technique and I have heard that the film needed to be sped up in order to capture his movements. He is that fast.
But Li shows a different side of himself. Just like in his American film, Unleashed, Li demonstrates acting chops without even saying a word. Sure, there is dialogue in the film, complete with subtitles that were surprisingly not annoying to read, but Li showcases a myriad of emotions just with a nod of his head or a look in his eyes. His pantomime tells it all and the story gives him a lot to work with.
Kung-fu aside, this movie did the unexpected and left a tear in my eye, at least twice. And the end was a perfect send off for a man who is leaving the genre behind. Art imitates life. Li leaves us, but not before proving to everyone that he is the best at what he does, earning the respect of everyone before we see him before we see him one last time in all his grandeur.
Kung-fu sometimes gets a bad rap. As good as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon did, many still do not take the genre seriously, but should. Fearless is just as good a movie as any other film out today, and if you have seen some of the films they have been releasing lately, I do not hesitate to call Fearless one of the best films this year. Jet Li truly stands tall and in the world of great martial arts cinema, itís a shame to see him go. Thanks for the memories.