|Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen (2010)|
|Starring:||Donnie Yen, Shu Qi and Anthony Wong|
|The Plot: Our film opens with Chen Zhen (Donnie Yen) battle against the Japanese in the midst of the Second Sino-Japanese War. While on the battle field, he watches as one of his friends from the resistance Qi Tianyuan is killed. After this, Chen Zhen decides to take the identity of his fallen comrade and wanders back into Shanghai and takes refuge with the local resistance against the Japanese. He makes friends with Liu Yutian (Anthony Wong) who gives him a job in his club, where he can keep an eye on the local Japanese who come through. As the Japanese plan to instigate a civil war between the local warlord’s, Chen Zhen takes on the role of a superhero and begins to fight against the invading country using darkness to conceal his identity. Now Chen Zhen has to fight the oncoming Japanese assault and hide himself from the locals at Lie Yutian, including Kiki (Shu Qi) his potential love interest who also happens to be a Japanese double agent.|
Donnie Yen no doubt appreciates the chance to step into a more diverse and interesting role but at the same time in doing this the filmmakers ultimately stretch the levels of plausibility far beyond their own limits. While I appreciate the attempt at creating something different, one wonders if the film wouldn’t have been more of its own creation had they simply removed the name “Chen Zhen”. In that sense, if you are in the audience expecting a film that will truly deliver upon the promise of Chen Zhen’s story continuing, you may be slightly disappointed.
Using the character of Chen Zhen in order to make a Chinese superhero seems at first to be a rather fitting idea due to its ties with the legendary Bruce Lee, who was nearly treated as a LITERAL Chinese superhero before and after his death. Donnie Yen’s character even dons a “superhero” costume which quite obviously pays favor to another Bruce Lee role, that of Kato from The Green Hornet TV show, but the concept is thrown slam-bang in the middle of an apparently serious international thriller of sorts. The amalgamation of styles unfortunately leads to a project that is more than a little unstable in choosing precisely what it hopes to be. While watching the film, one gets a distinctly “Christopher Nolan” feel at times because unlike many comic-book movies out there this is a movie that does attempt a very serious tone throughout. The music, which is booming and serves as a orchestrated siren of intensity also seems to call to mind visions of Nolan’s Batman pictures. The difference between projects is of course the fact that Nolan’s film is very distinct in its voice and knows precisely how to keep the level of realism heightened just to the point where the audience can latch onto things and remain focused on his tension-fueled action films.
Legend of the Fist has the action in spades, but when it comes to creating a lot of the necessary tension to sustain its story – things tend to fall rather flat. While the action scenes are fantastic, we never have the ability to really buy into the overall project because it all seems so schizophrenic. Not to mention there’s the overabundance of Chinese nationalism, which seems to be the extent of the subtext throughout the movie and of course we have the requisite Japanese villains who like to remain as two dimensional as they possibly can. While the Japanese are portrayed slightly more fair than in the original Bruce Lee film, this portrayal certainly seems like a regression in comparison to the 90’s vision of reconciliation and understanding that was Fist of Legend.
Although his style here isn’t as unique or breathtaking, it does manage to excite more than anyone else you could have thrown into this role. The kicks and punches are all universally brutal, but the true excitement of the project is seeing Donnie Yen channel the spirit of Bruce Lee in his role. During the most tense moments of the film Yen genuinely does a Bruce Lee impression as he carves his way through many enemies. Wearing a purely white version of the traditional Chen Zhen uniform, the love affair with Bruce Lee is brought to the forefront and given closure as he mimics the fallen giant far greater than any Brucesploitation actor could have ever hoped to have done; because in these moments Donnie Yen is equally as passionate in his performance.