Starring Donnie Yen, Shu Qi, Anthony Wong, Ryu Kohata, Yasuaki Kurata (cameo)
Fight Choreography by Donnie Yen
Directed by Andrew Lau
Chen Zhen is a fictional hero of China who fought to drive out the Japanese during a time period between WW I and WWII, a creation of writer Ni Kuang. The character’s most famous portrayals were by Bruce Lee in Fist of Fury and Jet Li in Fist of Legend, and now Donnie Yen takes up the mantle in a film that shows what happened to Chen Zhen after the events of those films. Even after I watched the film I still don’t know what hell happened to Chen Zhen because despite some good-to-great fight scenes this film is a muddled mess in the story department.
The film opens in 1917 France, where Chen Zhen (Yen) and a group of chinese couriers run weapons and ammunition out to the French soldiers, and before long they find themselves attacked from all sides by the Germans, so you know it’s time for Chen to go into action, and the action scenes that follow are fantastic, as Chen Zhen parkours his way around mortar shells and explosions everywhere, taking out german soldiers with nothing more than a few knives. The Germans had machine guns, but Chen had knives, wirework, and French parkour, so you know he wins this one. The Germans were like “WTF? Can no one not shoot this jackhole?!” This is the one of the best scenes in the film, and also the least confusing.
After his victory killing a ton of Germans, we fast forward to 1927 Japanese occupied Shanghai, where Chen Zhen is working undercover for the Chinese resistance, as part owner of the Casablanca bar, the other owner being mafia boss Yuu (Wong). Chen Zhen is undercover to weed out Chinese traitors in their midst. He starts to fall for Yuu’s woman, dancer and singer Ky Ky (Qi). The town is ruthless controlled by Colonel Chikaraishi, son of the dojo master (Kurata) that Chen Zhen (at least in Bruce Lee’s version) killed years ago. As the Colonel’s grip on the town tightens, Chen Zhen finds himself defending the freedom fighters until he has a familiar fight to the finish with the Colonel and his entire dojo…
Legend of the Fist doesn’t know exactly what it wants to be. A straightforward martial arts film? It has those elements, the strongest of them all. What about a superhero film? Yes, it wants to be that too, having Chen Zhen running around town like Bruce Wayne and the donning a Kato costume and beating the tar out of people, and inexplicable wire work that’s not needed–unless he is a superhero. A spy thriller? Yes, but it may confuse the hell out of you to figure out who’s who, and who is loyal to what, etc. It wants to be a little bit of everything, but fails at most of it–save for the fights, and the films’ budget, which looks like they really went all out for this one.
The choreography is top-notch stuff as always for Yen, and the final fights allows him to fuse the versions of Jet Li and Bruce Lee’s take on the character. Thankfully there isn’t much if any wirework in the final fights, allowing Donnie Yen’s natural skills to shine, and they do, and he also gives what must be one of the most painful crotch punches I’ve ever seen. I’m fairly sure that dude’s nuts were turned into paste. The fifty man fight was great, if a little unrealistic that he would fight off that many with nunchucks. The smaller Kato fights are pretty good, but nothing beats the bookend fights at the beginning and the end of the film.
Donnie Yen does a good job portraying Chen Zhen as a confident but conflicted man who is sure of his cause but not so sure of whom he can trust, and Anthony Wong is cool as the mafia boss who hates the Japanese but loves their business, and Shu Qi is great as the singer who may be more than what she seems.
If you are looking for a great story with your kick-ass martial arts scenes, you may want to look elsewhere. If you just want to see Donnie Yen doing what he does best, then I would recommend you check it out, but have that fast forward button on hot standby.
(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best):
CHOREOGRAPHY: (8) The best scenes are at the beginning and the end. The Kato fights are great as well, but not as good as what comes before and after.
STUNTWORK: (8) Great work by everyone involved. The stuntmen did what was needed and then some. Very realistic falls and reactions to strikes.
STAR POWER: (8) Donnie Yen, Shu Qi and Anthony Wong. All big HK stars who bring good performances to the table. Yen is forging his place in HK cinema next to Bruce, Jet , and Jackie.
FINAL GRADE: (8) Not close to Donnie’s best, this still film contains some memorably good fight scenes, and that may be enough of a reason to watch this one. Donnie is on a roll right now, and he’s not slowing down!
NEXT: Shashabooey! Kung Fu Panda 2!