Monday, January 3, 2011

Fist of Legend

The last movie of my martial arts marathon is an absolute classic that I never get tired of watching: Fist of Legend.

Since Fearless is my favorite movie of all time, you'd think it would also have to be my pick for the best martial arts movie of all time. However, if I'm to choose the best example of the genre, I'd have to go with Fist of Legend. It's really everything that you want in a martial arts movie: a thin but serviceable plot, decent characters, acting that may sometimes seem stiff but never makes you completely gag, and - most important - lots of great fight sequences. Further, the film is directed and shot in order to best highlight the moves of the martial artists. Sometimes this makes for a rather crude look but it's just a sign that the director has his priorities straight. The master/student dynamic receives screen time, including some discussion of martial art technique and philosophy. What more could you ask for?

Of course, since the movie was made in the early nineties before Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon ushered in the age of more technical martial arts films (both wire-fu and true genre films), there is also ill-fitting music, cheesy sound effects, and strange dubbing. Personally, I do not watch martial arts movies with the English dubbing, though sometimes it's tempting so you can watch the moves more closely. I did check out Fist of Legend's English dub and the voices were not too bad (as far as that goes). Actually, I'm not sure what language this movie was originally shot in because the soundtrack in Mandarin and Cantonese does not match the lips of the actors any better that the English version! Strange!

In terms of fights, you will get your money's worth. You get not one, but two scenes of Jet Li taking on a crowd of adversaries. Add to that a fight between Li and co-star Chin Siu Ho (Tai Chi Master). By the way, Ho also gets some great action scenes of his own, which is great. There's a fight between Li and a Japanese master, as well as the final showdown with the Japanese villain. The plot is amusing enough to hold your attention until the next fight scene, and none of the fight scenes are overlong. Warts and all, Fist of Legend  is pretty perfect.

Another thing I like about this movie is that - even though it was filmed more than a decade before Fearless - it is actually a kind of sequel to that film. Li's character Chen Zhen returns to China to uncover the conspiracy behind the death of Huo Yuanjia, the master Li played in Fearless. Of course, the movies were not planned to fit together so there are plenty of things that don't gyve. Ho plays Huo Yuanjia's son, which will throw people who watched Fearless as in that movie Huo Yuanjia only had a daughter. Also the name of the Japanese martial artist who challenged Huo Yuanjia is different in this movie and his fighting skills are in question.

But these are minor quibbles (and are actually part of the endearing charm of this rough gem). Fist of Legend  would be my pick for best martial arts movie of all time, and I recommend it as a starting point for people who want to see a real representation of the genre as Li and Ho are in top form!

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