Review Date: 9/24/06
Director: Ronny Yu
Martial Arts Choreographer: Yuen Woo Ping
Cast: Jet Li, Ngai Sing (Collin Chou)
Jet Li's final word on kung fu movies is a fitting, but slightly disappointing effort. When Huo Yuanjia's father (Ngai Sing) fails to deliver the fatal blow to an opponent during a fight, his son (Jet Li) is utterly shamed and vows to become the strongest fighter in the land. His brash arrogance and violent nature ultimately become his downfall, causing him to lose everything he holds dear. Wandering the countryside as a broken man, he is taken in by a group of farmers and learns the value of life and the true nature of martial arts. He eventually heads back home and attempts to set things right by teaching friendship and respect through competition.
More than anything, the film reminded me of Jet Li's "Tai-Chi Master" (1994) with the thematic resonance of "Fist Of Legend" (1994) and a touch of "Once Upon A Time In China" (1991). Jet Li gives an admirable performance as Huo Yuanjia, who is a pretty detestable character for most of the film. His transformation at the end of the film offers him redemption and embodies the spirit of wushu, a philosophy that Jet Li personally embraces. Director Ronny Yu has created a lush film, full of beautiful colors, dazzling sets, and a dramatic music score. Ironically, where the movie falls apart for me is in the fight scenes. Yuen Woo Ping's masterful choreography is superb and the physical performances of the players are excellent, but the film suffers from too much wire work and the unfortunate use of drop-frame editing. While the wire work is minimal, it still seems inappropriate in a film based on real people and actual historical events. Fortunately, the cinematography is excellent, but the editing spoils the flow, rhythm, and pacing of the fights. To really start picking nits, one of Yuen Woo Ping's failings is that he's exclusively a kung fu guy. The film features top fighters from around the world exhibiting various forms of martial combat, but the forms they use are all distinctly Chinese. Veteran action director Liu Chia Liang does a much better job of incorporating different forms in his cross-cultural films. However, that's seriously diving into minutia, which only die-hard kung fu fans will notice or even care about. Keep in mind that it's still much better than anything Hollywood could ever come up with. Overall, "Fearless" is satisfying martial arts brawler with a strong moral message, and while it has a lot of old school charm, it fails to live up to the raw kinetic splendor of Li's earlier works.