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September 2006
JET LIíS FEARLESS (Huo Yuanjia)


By Kam Williams

JET LI’S FEARLESS (Huo Yuanjia)

Distributor: Focus Features
Director: Ronny Yu
Producer: William Kong
Screenwriters: Chris Chow & Christine To
Choreographer: Yuen Wo Pin
Cast: Jet Li, Nakamura Shidou, Dong Yong, Sun Li, Collin Chou, Nathan Jones, Anthony De Longis, Masato Harada
In Japanese, Mandarin and English with subtitles.
Running time: 103 minutes
Rated PG-13 for martial arts action.
   

Jet Li as Legendary Martial Arts Master in Chopsocky Costume Drama

Huo Yuanjia (1868-1910) was the most famous, Chinese martial arts master at
the turn of the 20th Century. Still, he is probably best remembered for the spiritually-oriented school he founded in Shanghai about seventy days before he died. For that dojo would blossom into the Chin Woo Athletic Association, a successful franchise which shared the guru’s closely-guarded fighting secrets with the general public, but with an emphasis on violence as a last resort.
Fearless revisits the life and times of Huo Yuanjia, chronicling the critical events which transformed the respected legend from a feared fighter into a peace-loving patriot. In what has been billed as the last of his career (I’ll believe it when I don’t see it), Jet Li stars, here, as the beloved national hero.

Unfortunately, this historical drama is unlikely to find much of an audience
outside of Asia. First of all, the stunts are nowhere near as spectacular as your typical Bruce Lee high attrition-rate adventure, nor as innovative as that of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, because the special effects are mostly old school instead of state-of-the-art. Plus, the costumes, here, pale in comparison to Crouching Tiger’s, as do the locations which lack the latter’s spellbinding cinematographic capture. Even the basic plotline leaves a lot to be desired, as the story unfolds as follows, in 25 words or less. Sickly, 98-pound weakling whips himself into a lean, mean fighting machine to get even with the bullies who teased him only to learn that revenge is not the answer, rather Chinese unity is. This makes the Fearless more of a message movie designed for the mainland than a karate chopsocky for consumption in the West, where a martial arts movie needs to be about butt-kicking to generate much traction.

Good (2 stars)