those with absolutely no interest in martial arts cinema know
the name Bruce Lee. The word "legend" gets thrown around
a little haphazardly but it's a term that suits Bruce Lee's current
and future status, not only in Hollywood but around the world.
Unfortunately, his image was shamelessly exploited after his death,
culminating in the onslaught of "Bruceploitation" films
of the 1970s and early '80s.
this day, whenever someone even suggests remaking, rehashing or
otherwise messing with any of Bruce Lee's work, his fans cringe,
if not openly revolt. This may keep the uninitiated from viewing
Fist of Legend, a reworking of Fist
of Fury (AKA The Chinese Connection)
from 1972. But Fist of Legend does
not in any way exploit Bruce Lee, his work, or his philosophies.
Far from it; it pays him great respect and is in many ways, a
very warm tip of the hat to a sorely missed cinema icon.
Li plays Chen Zhen, a Chinese native perusing a higher education
in Japan circa 1937, when he receives word that his kung fu master
has died. This compels him to return to China to pay his respects
and investigate the matter personally. The decision to take his
leave is not an easy one for him to make, since while studying
abroad, he has caught the eye of a fellow classmate (the beautiful
monster movie veteran Shinobu Nakayama). Chen arrives in Shanghai,
where the Japanese military has taken up occupation of his homeland.
After briefly mourning the loss of Master Hou Ting-An, he goes
toe-to-toe with an entire dojo to reach the man that supposedly
vanquished his mentor. When Chen has no problem wiping the floor
with his opponent, he knows Hou Ting-An was not subject to a fair
fight. This causes him to quite literally dig deeper, excavating
his master's corpse and ordering an autopsy.
would be more than enough of a plot for your average kung fu movie
but Fist of Legend doesn't stop there.
Throw in the aforementioned Romeo and Juliet-esque forbidden
romance between Chen and a Japanese woman (minus the whole suicide
pact thing), the jealousy of Chen's contemporaries and a twist
or two and you’ll begin to get the picture. (Interestingly, Jet
Li went on to portray Chen Zhen’s fallen mentor in Fearless
. Both films are loosely based on historical figures but
should be viewed for their entertainment value and should not
be seen as reliably detailed biographies.)
far as the fight choreography is concerned, the handy work of
Yuen Wo Ping (The Matrix, Fearless,
Kill Bill and countless others) is
clearly visible. As a word of warning, you should probably leave
your jaw on the floor and retrieve it when you get ready to eject
the DVD. If you don't, you'll spend the majority of the film's
running time picking it up only to have it drop open again, and
you could easily miss something. Of course, the best choreography
in the world could go to waste if not properly executed but Mr.
Li is up to the task. They don't call him "Jet" Li for
nothing — he is in top form here, moving as swiftly as his namesake.
Gordon Chan made the wise decision to leave Fist
of Legend relatively grounded in reality. There are moments
that defy belief but compared to "wire-fu", or Wuxia,
films such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
(2000) and House of Flying Daggers
(2004) these moments are minimal. The homage to Bruce Lee is delivered
in a very subdued form. Jet's character embraces Bruce Lee's philosophies
and fighting style or rather, lack of a specific fighting style.
Our hero does everything from dancing around his rival in a relaxed
boxing stance in one scene, to using his belt to whip and subdue
his enemy in another. What is practical and effective is utilized,
nothing more. Understandably, the training sequences also include
some of Bruce Lee's signature moves. This is all done very tastefully
and it may be lost on some, but fans will know what they are witnessing,
a wink to them and to their idol.
pressed to find a flaw with the movie, one might be tempted to
criticize the initial set-up of the plot as cliché (avenging the
death of a kung fu master? I've never heard that one before!)
but often it seems that things that get labeled cliché are nothing
more than simple truths. To attack a martial arts movie for its
vengeance theme would be like attacking a western for containing
showdowns at sunset. These are staples and if treated carelessly,
yes, they could become cliché but in a superior film such as this,
they are only elements, minor ingredients in a much larger picture.
is arguably Jet Li's greatest work. Yet no matter where it falls
on an individual's Top Ten list, Hong Kong film expert Bey Logan
puts it best on the commentary track when he says that the movie
is "unquestionably a masterpiece in the genre of martial
arts cinema." Indeed, a masterpiece of action movie making
and a sterling tribute to a true legend.
Dynasty's "Ultimate" edition DVD release of Fist
of Legend is presented in 16x9 (1:85:1) anamorphic widescreen.
The transfer is beautiful to be sure, but aficionados may notice
a couple of brief moments where blurring seems out of place, implying
a flaw in the print. It's worth noting that this is not the case.
According to Bey Logan's commentary track, this was a rudimentary
technique used before the advent of digital photography, where
the camera lens was greased to disguise the use of wires. I'm
happy to report that this is as pristine a print as we could possibly
original and Dimension films theatrical trailers are included
but that about does it for the standard extras — its everything
else that makes this an "ultimate edition". The Weinstein
Company was kind enough to give us a selection of three different
audio options (not including the audio commentary track): Cantonese
(2.0 Stereo), Mandarin (2.0 Stereo) and English-dubbed (Dolby
Digital 5.1 Surround). No matter which you choose, the sound is
clear and balanced. However, the Cantonese language track has
one fleeting moment of scratchy distortion. The dubbed track is
a good option if you would rather just kick back and enjoy the
action and, as an added bonus, it includes an entirely original
score. Other than that, the audio for Fist
of Legend faces a common problem for films with an international
cast: no matter which soundtrack you choose, at least a few of
the cast members are dubbed over, an annoyance simply because
when you opt for subtitles, you want to hear the original languages.
(Those subtitles, by the way, are presented in English, Spanish
and English SDH for the deaf and hard of hearing. They're clear
and easy to read and I only caught one small grammatical mistake.)
commentary track might make one too many plugs for other Dragon
Dynasty releases but he can be forgiven since he's particularly
fascinating this time around. He brings out some really interesting
cultural messages that would otherwise be lost in translation.
is usual with Dragon Dynasty's Ultimate Edition DVDs we have an
extensive interview gallery beginning with The Man Behind the
Legend: An exclusive interview with Director Gordon Chan.
Gordon goes into detail about what it was like working with Jet
Li and chronicles some of the injuries on set. In Brothers
in Arms: Kung Fu Impresario Chin Siu-ho, Li's co-star discusses
his career and adds little insight into the film itself but might
prove interesting for his fans. Next we have The Way of the
Warrior: Japanese Action Legend Kurata Yasuaki, in which Kurata
gives a candid account of what it was like being the first Japanese
action star in Hong Kong cinema. He holds back nothing when discussing
the racism he faced in the early days of his career and how that
has subsided substantially in recent years, symbolized by the
fact that he now is more frequently cast as a good guy. Fourth
in the series is The School of Hard Knocks: A Screen Fighting
Seminar at the Celebrated Kurata Action School. This featurette
that could just as easily have been included with any martial
arts film to show just a glimpse of the training involved in being
a student of perhaps the most labor-intensive industry for a stunt
man. Topping off the interview gallery is, A Look at Fist of
Legend with Director Brett Ratner & Critic Elvis Mitchell.
Brett Ratner may be an enthusiastic fan of the genre but he adds
little that a well-informed viewer couldn't deduce on their own.
Elvis Mitchell on the other hand, gives a more scholarly take
on Jet Li's rise to fame.
I realized Dragon Dynasty wasn't able to acquire the rights to
the fully uncut version of Fist of Legend,
I must admit I was disappointed. The good news is that this missing
footage is included in the Deleted Scenes section of the DVD.
These scenes are taken from a low-grade source with burned in
subtitles, true, but they’re here. Actually, only one of the deleted
scenes adds anything to the story, in that one of Chen Zhen’s
counterparts is addicted to opium, explaining why he never truly
excelled in the martial arts.
told, this is an elaborate treatment of a true classic. Hands
down, a must-own DVD for genre fans.