December 18, 2006

DVD Review: Jet Li's Fearless

Jet Li's love song to wushu is a very good film. It flirts with the greatness that I hoped it would, but never quite crosses over to the other side. That said, watching it on DVD, I have found myself liking it more than I had when I saw it theatrically. It is a wonderful story of self discovery that had a great impact on a nation. Jet Li has delivered a wonderful film that he hopes encapsulates all that he has hoped to achieve in the genre. It is a highwater mark for martial arts action and drama.

This is the story of Huo Yuanjia, a true historical figure in Chinese history. Over the years, he has become something of a legendary figure to the point of it being difficult top discern fact from fiction with regards to his life. This film is a fictionalized take on the life of Yuanjia. It strikes me as a film that seeks to hit the notes of why he is an important figure rather than to try and recreate the actuality of his life. The end result is a powerful film that shows the growth of Hup Yuanjia and how his newfound philosophies that he discovered during his exile played a role in helping to unite a country during a time of dire need.

Jet Li's Fearless is broken down into three distinct stages. Each one having a different tone and representing a different period in the life and development of Huo Yuanjia. The film begins with a prologue of sorts, showing him as a young boy. He is stricken with asthma, therefore disallowed by his father to learn wushu. He taught himself, and reached a point where he vowed never to lose again. He set himself the goal of being the best fighter around. This leads to a cocky young man who lets his pride get the better of him which leads to the death of his family.

His shame from this devastating loss leads to his self exile. This brings to the middle section of the film which is distinctly lacking in action. This has Huo living on a farm, where he has his discovery of self. He learns more about himself living with these simple people. It is here that he learns his errors and what he must do to redeem himself. This brings us to the third and final act.

The final third of the movie has Huo returning home and finding his people in trouble, they are facing hard times. The Europeans and Japanese have been carving out their own foothold on the nation, undermining the Chinese. Huo agrees to enter a tournament pitting him against four other champions from other countries. Huo accepts the challenge, seeing it as an opportunity to demonstrate the new him as well as give back to the country that is falling apart from within.

Beyond the personal drama that Huo Yuanjia goes through, his cockiness leading to devastating loss and turning to his journey into self, this is a big time action film. The battles are some of the best I have seen on the big screen. There is a reality to the majority of them that has been missing from many martial arts films of late. There is a noticeable lack of wire work and CGI, it is there, but it is relegated to the minimum. The fights are incredible, they do a great job of showing off Jet Li's considerable skills.

The film was directed by Ronny Yu (The Bride with White Hair, Bride of Chucky) and he has succeeded in bringing the story to life. The movie has a nice balance of action and drama, giving the needed weight to what is going on in the country and with Huo Yuanjia. The film has nice cinematography, excellent fight choreography from Yuen Woo Ping, and a first rate score from Shiugeru Umebayashi.

Audio/Video. Both of these elements are very good. The colors are nicely defined and the fast action is captured smoothly. The 5.1 audio also is very good, so long as you stay away from the English dub, which is particularly distracting.

Extras. Not much to speak of on this end.
  • Deleted Scene. A single scene is here. It is of Huo saving a young boy who made a mistake and was being beaten. I think this would have been fine had it remained in the film. I know there is other deleted footage that hasn't been used anywhere, including a part by Michelle Yeoh, hopefully one day this will come out.
  • A Fearless Journey. This is a 16 minute behind the scenes on the making of the film. It includes footage on the making of the fights and interview footage with Jet concerning his retirement from wushu films.
  • Unrated. This disk contains the theatrical version as well as an unrated cut. I did not notice much different, except maybe a little more blood in the fights. There is less than a minute difference between the two.

Bottomline. If you are a Jet Li or a martial arts fan, this is definitely a film to see. It does not stray into the wire-fu fantasy of Hero or House of Flying Daggers, nor is it quite as visually breathaking as those films, but it definitely has a flavor all of its own. It also features one of Jet Li's most complete acting performances. This is one of the best.

Highly Recommended.


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