Fist of Legend | Varied Celluloid

Fist of Legend

Posted by Josh Samford On September - 10 - 2008
Plot Outline: Chen Zhen is a Chinese student studying abroad in Japan right around the beginnings of World War II. The Japanese have acquired Shanghai and the tensions between the Chinese and Japanese are so thick you couldn’t cut through it with a hacksaw. While away from home though, Chen finds himself slowly falling for a beautiful Japanese girl who takes classes with him. Once Chen discovers that his master was killed in an apparent challenge from a rival Japanese school he catches the first ship back to China, leaving his new found love to wait for him. After he gets home he decides to try out this man who supposedly killed his master, only to pulverize him. He concludes that if his master was in peak health as everyone says he was before the match, he must have been poisoned. After Chen gets a doctor to take a look at his master, it is proven without doubt that he was poisoned. Chen Zhen vows to find the killer and bring him to justice, but things get complicated when he is framed for murder and is put on trial. Once in court his girlfriend from Japan lies on the stand to protect him saying that the two of them had spent the night together. Now Chen is set free, but finds himself at odds with his own people for loving a Japanese girl. Now he can either move on and live and let live, or fight for what is right.


  

The Review: I have only ran into one Kung Fu film in all my time that almost every single person who has seen it, truly loves it. Only one film that I feel confident I could show to some of the most staunch anti-action film fans, and still have them proclaim it as a thing of beauty. That film is Fist of Legend. Whether Fist of Legend is the greatest Kung Fu film of all time is highly debatable, but if you’re a fan of the genre I see no way you can deny the talent behind the film. It’s the kind of film that those who know very little about martial arts and who know even less about the cinematic history of martial arts can still sit down and walk out with their mouths hanging open from the amazing choreography. Fist of Legend is what solidified my love of Kung Fu. At the time I came across the film I was just getting back into chop socky flicks. I had grew up with the Bruce Lee films of old, including The Chinese Connection (Fist of Fury), but had lost interest somewhere along the way. Probably from lack of any films on television. Anyway at one point I started reading up on Jet Li and his films so I started out with Once Upon a Time In China which I loved, but was thrown back by the heavy use of wire work. At the time I had not seen too much like it and just found it all incredibly strange. Then one day I heard someone singing the praises of Fist of Legend and I decided to give it a rent. When I got home and started watching, my mind was blown. If watching a bunch of people fly around rattled my brain, imagine what the lightning quick and brutal choreography of Fist of Legend did. My brain was scrambled. From then on out all I could do was tell people how amazing it was, and I showed it to everyone I could. Still to this day, after raiding the Shaw Bros. vault and seeing many more films, I still haven’t found a more accessible film. If Miramax really wanted to earn some serious money, they would have released Fist of Legend in theaters with subtitles and not Iron Monkey. I love Iron Monkey just as much but on a different level, I think that even though Fist of Legend is far more violent, it definitely holds up better to wider audiences.

The one thing that separates Fist of Legend from all of the other Kung Fu films out there is a very simple ingredient, the fight choreography. I’ve seen many martial art films and I’ve seen many great fight scenes, but Fist of Legend may very well be the best in that department. It doesn’t make it the greatest film in my eyes, but for god’s sake just look at it! There’s no denying the amazing choreography. It’s a brilliant mix of film wizardry and concise and technical martial arts like the big screen has never seen before or since. There are moments where the film is sped up so our characters, who are already moving at breakneck speeds, seem to be moving even faster. It might seem like cheating to the puritans out there, but Chan and Ping make it work like no other pair ever could. Another thing that separates it’s self from a lot of Jet Li’s filmography is the minor use of wire work. There are bits and pieces of obvious wire work, things like character being kicked and knocked back seven or eight feet, but for the most part everything is kept in the context of reality. There is no floating here! Ever fight scene in the film almost seems epic, like something divine and pristine. The opening classroom brawl catches you immediately with it’s use of violence. Chen Zhen breaks so many bones in this one sequence that it becomes almost comical, the moment where he breaks a man’s leg while balanced on a table is something that you’ll likely keep in mind the whole film. Then there is the defining, and truly epic, climatic fight scene that seems to go on forever with each increasing phase bringing out even bigger tricks. I won’t go into detail, but it’s truly one of the most inspiring fight scenes of the nineties. Although my favorite fight scene would likely be Ting-An vs. Chen Zhen. It’s not as much of a spectacle, and not nearly as lengthy or as complicated as the final battle, but it’s more pure to me. I just like the moment in the film and what Chen is going through, and I like seeing the cocky Ting-An getting beaten around like a rag doll too.

All of the technical aspects of the film can only be described as phenomenal. The pacing for the film is unmatched in my book. It’s one of the easiest films for me to watch, and whenever I feel like watching a quick and easy Kung Fu film it’s always a choice between this and Crippled Avengers. The film just seems to move so quick for me. It’s probably just because I’m so interested in the film, but there’s barely a single scene in the film I would want changed. Of course the film is released by Miramaxe over here, so god know’s what scenes are missing. You take what you can get though and even if the film is missing twenty minutes from the final cut, I still can’t imagine watching it any other way. The dubbing on the other hand is a different story. As a Kung Fu fan normally dubbing doesn’t bother me or anything like that, but with Fist of Legend I feel I need to watch it subtitled. At least it could use a better dub for Pete’s sake. The English audio it has now is laughable. It detracts from getting any real since of Jet Li’s performance in my eyes. You can only tell so much from body language when the person delivering the voice is as stiff as plywood. I may not can speak Cantonese, but I can at least tell from the tone of voice how the dialogue should be delivered. If it was any other Kung Fu film, I would care less because it comes with the territory, but I have such a high opinion of Fist of Legend. It’s art as entertainment. From the amazing cinematography and grand sets to the brilliantly plotted script and choice camera angles during the fight scenes, the film is sheer genre film perfection. It knows the rules and seamlessly breaks and reinvents them all.

There’s not much else I can think to say. If you’re one of those people who want to get their feet wet in Hong Kong action but don’t want to get in with all those ‘cheesy old flicks’, then this is where you should start no doubt. It shows off the martial arts with very little to get in your way, the camera is always in place to pick up every little detail and there are things in this film that have never been done since. Jet Li is probably still sore to this day from some of these stunts. I’ve hyped it up so much that there’s probably no way it can live up to anyone’s expectations, but screw what I’ve said, rent the film yourself. Buy it. Just, see it!



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