Devin says Donnie Yen is incredible in LEGEND OF THE FIST @ Fantastic Fest!
Hey folks, Harry here - and I wish to God that I had seen this yesterday morning at FANTASTIC FEST - but due to late night site management and development calls with Singapore - the alarm didn't get us up to head down there. Luckily, the fellow bearded movie lover, Devin Faraci - who circumstance placed into our little community for this brief FANTASTIC time. Dying to see this film now. For the record folks - in person - Devin is an incredibly cool cat. Whoever ends up with Devin writing for them is lucky. He's one of the net's jewels.
LEGEND OF THE FIST: THE RETURN OF CHEN ZHEN
Picture Donnie Yen in World War I, leaping and jumping and kicking and beating his way across a battlefield to take out a German machine gun emplacement and then demolish a bunch of Krauts. That's the opening action scene of Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen, and it's among the most unique, amazing and thrilling action scenes I've watched in years. I would happy drop my money right now for an entire film of Yen up against WWI Germans. But there's good news and there's bad news: the bad news is that the scene is the best in the film, but the good news is that it's the opening of a movie that's actually engaging and interesting all on its own, which can sometimes be a rarity in martial arts cinema.
Yen is playing Chen Zhen, a character originated by Bruce Lee in Fist of Fury, aka The Chinese Connection, and who has gone on to be remade and sequalized by the likes of Jet Li and Jackie Chan (Yen actually played Zhen in the 30 episode TV series Fist of Fury, which Legend of the Fist is essentially following up). Zhen has become a popular folk character in China, and he's always been political - Lee's film saw him fighting the Japanese in the early 20th century. Legend of the Fist, directed by Andrew Lau, the man who brought us Infernal Affairs, is a lush period piece taking place in Shanghai in the 1920s, ten years after Zhen's apparent death in both the Bruce Lee movie and the TV show. It turns out that Zhen actually went with Chinese laborers to fight in WWI (a historical fact that I never knew - I've never read a thing about Chinese presence in the war), and now he's returned to Shanghai, which is coming under increased Imperial Japanese occupation.
Taking another identity, Zhen ends up a part owner of a nightclub (don't ask, it doesn't really make a ton of sense in the movie) as political tensions rise. When the Japanese attempt to assassinate a Chinese general Zhen grabs an outfit out of a costume shop - an outfit that looks a lot like Bruce Lee's Kato outfit - and begins kicking ass as the Masked Warrior. A sort of political Batman, the Masked Warrior attempts to save Chinese marked for death by the Japanese. Eventually the movie leads to a dojo confrontation that attempts to top the one at the end of Fist of Fury.
Yen is incredible in the film, both in his Bruce Wayne-ish playboy role and as a martial artist. He rains blows on his opponents, delivering what seems like hundreds of hits in seconds. He's certainly trying to ape some of Bruce Lee's style (and when he pulled out nunchucks at the final dojo fight the crowd went wild), but he's also coming with an almost mathematical precision of brutality. Yen delivers superb action again and again.
The problem is that the middle part of the film is mostly action-free, and much of the Masked Warrior's career is told in montage. I enjoyed the political tension building in the film, but I still wanted more hitting. The opening and closing fights make Legend of the Fist great, but an equally epic battle in the second act might have made it insanely great. Still, there are enough great character moments and bits of intrigue to keep me engaged. The sets are beautiful, and the Shanghai of the film looks like one part reality and one part a place where you might find Club Obi Juan.
Legend of the Fist ends with the possibility of future Masked Warrior adventures, and I really would like to see them. I want to see more martial arts masters showing gun-wielders who is the real baddest ass. At 48 Donnie Yen remains one of the most impressive physical specimens on film, and he shows no sign of slowing down. I think we can get a trilogy out of him on this one. Take us right up to WWII, Donnie!