Martial arts fans continue to watch and admire Bruce Lee's portrayal of the Chinese hero Chen Zhen in the 1972 film Fist of Fury, as well as Jet Li's 1994 remake Fist of Legend. Martial arts master Donnie Yen continues the story of the popular character via director Andrew Lau's Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen, a straightforward martial arts movie that takes full advantage of Yen's mastery of Wing Chun kung fu. Standout fight scenes bookend the movie and help ease the confusion of crisscrossing subplots that bog down the action midway into the story. Free of the repetitive CG effects of recent martial arts movies like The Warrior's Way and Ninja Assassin, Legend of the Fist is pleasantly old fashioned, with plush period sets of '20s Shanghai and actual hand-to-hand combat. After portraying Chen Zhen in a 1995 Chinese TV series, Yen remains as fast as a panther with his flying kicks and whip-crack punches. In Mandarin Chinese with English subtitles, Legend of the Fist will please Yen's devoted U.S. fans when Well Go USA opens the action movie in limited release January 2011.
Chen (Yen) returns to Japanese occupied Shanghai after serving in the Labor Corps and fighting in France during World War I. Believed to be dead, Chen disguises himself as a businessman named Qi and befriends mafia boss Mr. Liu (Anthony Wong) and Kiki (Shu Qi from The Transporter), the pretty hostess at Liu's Casablanca Club. When the Japanese military issues a death list, Chen disguises himself as the Masked Warrior (wearing a black suit and cap that resembles Lee's character Kato in The Green Hornet) and goes to work fighting the Japanese invaders.
Arthouse audiences remember Lau's hit cop drama Infernal Affairs (remade by Martin Scorsese as The Departed), and some recall his collaborations with Wong-kar Wai (As Tears Go By and Chung King Express) for whom he acted as cinematographer.
Like Infernal Affairs, Legend of the Fist is a pulpy, straightforward action movie without any Wuxia mysticism. It arrives as a guiltless pleasure for traditional martial arts fans who will enjoy the period Shanghai sets, showy musical numbers and old-fashioned fight scenes.
While screenwriters Gordon Chan and Cheung Chi Sing cram too many subplots into the story, Lau makes the movie worthwhile with an incredible opening scene with Zhen swinging into battle over a bombed-out French village and attacking a battalion of German soldiers.
Yen remains a pure action hero and performs his own stunts. He's in top form in Legend of the Fist. Granted, Yen lacks the humor that helped make Jackie Chan an international star, but he's very compelling and provides a gravity defying, acrobatic, action alternative to the brute force of someone like Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.
Yen has another movie opening in U.S. cinemas this month: Ip Man 2 from director Wilson Yip, about the real-life kung fu master who trained Bruce Lee. Neither film will match the $14M box office total of Yen's 2001 release Iron Monkey. Still, Yen continues to keeps the legend of Bruce Lee alive via quality martial arts work and does the longstanding character Chen Zhen justice.
Distributor: Well Go USA Entertainment
Cast: Donnie Yen, Shu Qi, Anthony Wong Chau-Sang and Huang Bo
Director: Andrew Lau
Screenwriters: Gordon Chan, Cheung Chi Sing
Producers: Gordon Chan and Andrew Lau
Running Time: 106 min
Release date: January 20 ltd.