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Fist of Legend(1994)
Infuriated by Master Huo's brutal defeat at the hands of a Japanese master, a young martial arts student returns from studying in Japan to seek ultimate revenge.
For more about Fist of Legend and the Fist of Legend Blu-ray release, see Fist of Legend Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on May 3, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Jet Li, Siu-hou Chin, Yasuaki Kurata
Director: Gordon Chan
» See full cast & crew
Fist of Legend Blu-ray Review
Jet Li delivers one of his most admired performances in 'Fist of Legend', an unusually literate outing for a martial arts movie.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, May 3, 2010
For those of us in the West, any mention of Japanese Imperial aggression inevitably brings to mind visions of Pearl Harbor and Japan's rapid conquest of the islands that dot the vast expanse of the Pacific that separates their island nation from the Americas. But to Eastern sensibilities, there was a long history of aggression that was focused on the direction of the sunset rather than the sunrise (quite ironic considering Japan's soubriquet as the land of the rising sun), culminating in several occupations of China. It may seem incredible to modern audiences that tiny Japan could have invaded the behemoth that was then and still is China, but of course, not to state the obvious, things were much different in the first half of the 20th century than they turned out to be for either of these nations in the epochal years since World War II. In the late 1930's, China, though large, was still by and large a feudal society attempting to come to terms with modern ideas and technologies. Japan, on the other hand, was highly militarized and technologically quite savvy. Japan had been threatening China for years, though 1937 saw the conflict erupt into a new round of fury, one which escalated into a long running sidebar to the "main" conflicts of World War II. Only with the surrender of Japan after the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki did mainland China finally find itself free of the land of the rising sun. The second Sino-Japanese War serves as the political and social backdrop to Fist of Legend, one of Jet Li's earlier film efforts and one which helped him attain the worldwide superstardom he enjoys currently. A remake of 1972's Bruce Lee starrer Fist of Fury, Legend tells the story of fictional Chen Zhen, a Chinese student attending school in Japan (where he is discriminated against due to his ethnicity), who returns to Shanghai after his martial arts master dies unexpectedly.
What ensues in Fist of Legend is an unusually literate historical examination of a fascinating era in Chinese-Japanese relations, one fraught with intrigue and political posturing, often to the detriment of both of these nations' peoples. Chen Zhen soon uncovers a Japanese imperialistic plot to more or less assassinate his mourned master, and almost just as quickly finds himself ensnared in an ugly war where he is seen as the personal scapegoat for the actual guilty parties. Mix in an interesting, if somewhat underdeveloped, love affair which Zhen undertakes with a beautiful Japanese girl (Shinobu Nakayama), and elements of Romeo and Juliet begin to pop up in an unexpected, Asian context, adding to the unusual elements which have made Fist of Legend so widely admired, and not just by martial arts fans.
Truth be told, though, what typically draws audiences to these films are the fight sequences, and despite Fist of Legend's above average intelligence in the script department, it is these action elements which prove to be the film's greatest legacy. The fight choreography here is by Yuen Wo-ping, whose work was so impressive the Wachowski brothers hired him to do similar service for the Matrix films. In fact, astute viewers will notice a certain similarity in moves between these disparate films, as Jet Li and his nemeses dart, fly and erupt acrobatically in ways very similar to Neo and his crew as they battle their forces of darkness. Li has never been more athletic than he is in Fist, with several (literal) knockout moments, including a great blindfolded sequence and another trademark fight where his belt provides some extra attack power. Some of the most elaborate moments, however, are almost like ensemble dance numbers in a musical, with groups of men moving in tandem in deliberately complex choreography.
What ultimately gives Fist of Legend its unusual staying power is the epic sweep of its story combined with the visceral power of Li's acting and fighting (forgive me for this one) chops. As Brett Ratner discusses in one of the plentiful extras, Li proved himself in this film to be that same sort of martial arts superstar that both Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan had become, a performer equally at home in the emoting arena and the bludgeoning people to death with his bare hands arena. Li manages to make Zhen a completely believable character, even in the often cartoonish surroundings of the fight sequences.
Director Gordon Chan also mounts this production with an assured elegance and grace. Period detail is excellent, and the uneasy relationships between the Chinese and the Japanese are excellently handled. Costumes are appealingly gorgeous throughout. If this Blu reveals a little more of the artificiality of the sets than some might want to see, it's a small quibble and doesn't ultimately detract from the accomplishments of the film as a whole.
Though Li is front and center throughout virtually all of this film, supporting performances are uniformly strong, especially the lovely Shinobu Nakayama as Li's love interest. It's also of some historical import that the film features Shaw Brothers star Yusuaki Kurata, a man who has developed his talents as a teacher as well (as is documented in one of the disc's extras). The fight sequence starring the old master and the young then-pretender to the throne is astoundingly well done, and is just as surprisingly an emotional experience. Fist of Legend has an appealingly naturalistic tone in virtually all of the performances, something that can be rare in this genre, and something which lends credence to its recreation of a specific, and relatively recent, era.
Li of course has gone on to international superstardom and remains one of film's most iconic players. Fist of Legend captures him beginning to really make his mark on the international stage, but even then exhibiting his trademark action finesse and ease of performance. This is an evocative recreation of a sad period of both Chinese and Japanese history, but, though fictionalized, shows that heroes can be found on both sides of a dispute.
Fist of Legend Blu-ray, Video Quality
Dragon Dynasty Blu's got off to a rocky start with lamentable video presentations on both 36th Chamber of Shaolin and The Killer. Luckily, that trend reversed itself fairly convincingly with The Protector, which I half wondered might be due to Tarantino's involvement with that film. Fist of Legend has no Tarantino connection (at least officially, anyway), and yet we're offered a convincing, if not quite perfect, AVC encoded 1080p transfer (yes, 1080p--looks like Vivendi finally got the message) in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. This is a very good looking transfer by and large, with beautifully saturated colors and a wealth of fine detail. Grain is completely natural looking, rather evident in some shots, but never distracting, and actually helping to give this transfer a very palpable texture. The source elements themselves have very minor issues, including passing flecks and a scratch or two. I noticed absolutely no post processing issues like edge enhancement or DNR. I'd say Vivendi is batting about .400 now with these Dragon Dynasty releases, with some points taken off for this film's source element damage, as minor as it is.
Fist of Legend Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Unfortunately, no lossless audio options are offered on this Blu. Instead we get Dolby 2.0 mono tracks in both Cantonese and Mandarin, as well as a repurposed English dub in Dolby 5.1. I toggled back and forth between all three of these and found I liked the Cantonese best, though both of the Chinese tracks are plagued by some synchronization issues. Obviously this was a multi-lingual production to begin with, so ADR was probably a must. Both of the mono tracks do have a bit of the boxy sound of films much older than a vintage 1994 movie, but overall fidelity is fine, if not mind-blowing. The English 5.1 mix is a bit more spacious, as might be expected, but I actually found it somewhat off putting at times. While the surround activity is fun in the fight sequences, for the other, non-action segments (and there are lots, despite the film's pedigree), the 5.1 just seemed too artificial, as if a lacquer of reverb had been slathered onto the stems. What's really missing here, from all three choices, is that "thunk"-worthiness on the low end that a lossless option provides. Even the fiercest punches here sound anemic, not a good sign in a film which relies on sound effects to deliver visceral excitement during an action sequence.
There has been some controversy that this release was "dubtitled" instead of "subtitled," but not having seen other releases of this film, I can say that the issue really didn't bother me too greatly.
Fist of Legend Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Fist of Legend arrives on Blu with the 2 disc SD-DVD bonuses intact:
Fist of Legend Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Too often martial arts films are disparaged as being something akin to living cartoons. Fist of Legend is a notable exception, with an intelligent script rooted in historical truth, and an amazingly athletic performance from Jet Li. Even if you're not a big fan of this genre in general, my hunch is you'll find a lot to enjoy in this outing. If you are a fan, especially of this film in particular, you'll love the mostly excellent image and probably be willing to forgive the somewhat lackluster audio.
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