Archive for October 2nd, 2006


Jet Li's Fearless

October 2, 2006

The problem with this movie isn’t even brought upon by itself. The curious thing is, the movie is advertised as an epic blockbuster, Jet Li’s last starring role in a martial arts movie. And it is made to seem like this movie will end up being an action extravaganza, with fists, legs, and swords flying constantly. However, this is not the case at all. The truth is, this movie is not even an action flick. If you go into that theater expecting lots of action and don’t make the connection midway, you will only leave frustrated. While it lacks in the action department, it makes up for it by being a simply fantastic movie dealing with morals, life lessons, and great imagery.

I’ve only seen a handful of other Jet Li movies. Beyond a few select scenes from other movies like The One and Once Upon A Time In China, I’ve seen four others besides this. The first was one called Born To Defense, which I believe came out in the mid-eighties. It featured Li as a war hero who (you get to see him in some pretty badass Chuck Norris like warzone activity at the beginning) came home only to find himself and his fellow Chinese friends bullied and victimized by abusive American jock sailors. He puts up with it, but decides he needs to do something about it when his good friend ends up getting killed due to the reckless morons. So he does something about it, and the movie concludes with a fierce adrenaline pumping battle in the local fight club, a scene which I now associate with Dream Theater’s song Panic Attack. I remember it being a great movie and the shots of urban China being pretty cool, but not a great deal more.

Another I have seen was the 95 gimmicky but deliciously bad action blockbuster The Enforcer. It featured guns, explosions, kung-fu, “thrill a minute” action and a stereotypical punk antagonist that would even the best bad-guy actors impressed at his assinine and utterly silly nature. And beyond that, it features the infamous “Jonny Spin,” a really short sequence that will strike the viewer as being one of the most awkwardly silly but hilariously awesome fighting techniques ever used against more than one enemy. I liked it. I saw Hero too, which was only a few years ago. For some reason, I liked that one too. But I would probably prefer The Enforcer over it even if I know Hero was downright better. There was some sort of lack of too much real action, and a lot of the effect came through learning lessons. It was more of a drama from the ancient east with swords and spears occasionally thrown in with sort of a Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon angle, much like House of Flying Daggers in the operatic sort of way, but better. I saw Unleashed too, which I was also entertained with. The action was sort of minimal in that too, but the movies charm came through the brilliant characterization. Morgan Freeman played a wonderful piano tuner and Bob Hoskins played one of the better bad guys I have ever seen.

Anyway, while he’s no Bruce Lee, he is at least more tasteful than Jackie Chan usually is, and can kick out the action better too. Which is why I was expecting this movie to be much more fast paced, you know, to make the mans send off more thrilling. Instead, the approach is decidedly more tasteful. While there is some great martial arts and swordplay, a lot of the movie revolves around Jet Li as a character and how he changes, much like Unleashed, and much in contrast to his stoic but effectively non-changing character in Hero. Jet Li plays Huo Yuanjia, a Chinese master of a wushu style that his father forbade him from practicing during his living years. Of course we are talking about Jet Li, and Jet Li don’t take no shit from no one, so not only does Jet Li end up learning the style, but also fights his way to the top and gains pride and fantastic glory in the fighting circle.

But that’s where this movie gets you. It’s Jet Li’s last starring role, so he is more than likely portrayed as a flawless character who does a lot of ass-kicking, right? No, very wrong. In fact, the movie almost throws every chopsaki stereotype into the movie at first, and then brilliantly disassembles them all as soon as they are up in full force. Huo ends up having an extremely overinflated ego, and when one of his students comes home injured illegedly at the hand of the only master that Huo has not yet defeated during his flawless battle history, his reason to fight the man is only rekindled. So he disrespects him on his own birthday, and lets loose the scene for a massive battle in a restaurant almost made for a grand chopsaki scene.

I won’t delve into those specifics, but then things go awry, and Huo ends up finding a myriad of people dead, including those he loves. So he does another very Unleashed type thing to do by exiling himself to a far off land where he reluctantly starts over and makes friends with a charming blind girl named Moon and a nice old woman only referred to as Grandma. He learns new angles in life and realizes that he must travel back to where he came from in order to set things right.

Huo as a character develops marvelously in Fearless, not much like you would expect him to, but in a great way. The fact that Huo as a character already has some ego issues makes for a very interesting transformation. The movie itself is built as an epic drama type of thing, and the filming and imagery is top notch. The action is cool too, even if there are only so many fighting scenes. They are all top notch and great, but most of them take place right away. In this way, the writers and directors trick us and reveal to us what this movie is truly about later on when Huo smells the breeze in a rice field. While not a quintessential action movie, this film is a great send off for the great actor/performer that is Jet Li. People with a taste for action movies but wants something with a little more clarity will love this, and fans of Jet Li will like it even more, as it is him doing exactly what he wants to be doing, in a very peculiarly beautiful way.