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Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen(2010)
A continuation of the 1995 television series Fist of Fury, Donnie Yen reprises his role as Chen Zhen, a role made famous by Bruce Lee in 'Fist of Fury' (1972). The film is set seven years after the apparent death of Chen Zhen, who was shot after discovering who was responsible for his teacher's death in Japanese-occupied Shanghai. A mysterious stranger arrives from overseas and befriends a local mafia boss. That man is a disguised Chen Zhen, who intends to infiltrate the mob when they form an alliance with the Japanese. Disguising himself as a caped fighter by night, Chen intends to take out everyone involved as well as get his hands on an assassination list prepared by the Japanese.
For more about Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen and the Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen Blu-ray release, see Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on May 31, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Director: Andrew Lau
Writers: Gordon Chan, Frankie Tam, Lui Koon Nam
Starring: Donnie Yen, Shu Qi, Anthony Chau-Sang Wong, Shawn Yue, Yasuaki Kurata, Huang Bo (II)
» See full cast & crew
Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen Blu-ray Review
No connection with The Chinese Connection.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, May 31, 2011
Has there ever been another pop cultural flash in the pan quite like the 1966-68 ABC television version of Batman? The show seemed to hit literally overnight when it premiered as a midseason replacement in January 1966 and within what seemed like days everything was "Bat-this" and "Bat-that," and suddenly little old ABC, the ugly stepchild of three major broadcast networks, had what was arguably the hottest thing on the air. Of course, imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, there was a mad rush to find similar ideas to get on the air, and ABC greenlit (no pun intended, considering the series' color scheme and title) The Green Hornet for fall 1966. That show, unlike Batman, played it relatively straight, and that may have been one reason it never took off like its progenitor. Wiser minds may have averred that The Green Hornet's failure to launch was in fact the first warning shot that the Batman craze was already beginning to deflate a mere nine months after its launch, but Batman managed to limp through one more season before shuffling off the pop culture radar coil. In a little tangential sidebar, it's interesting to note that none other than "Uncle Miltie" himself may have sensed the early demise of The Green Hornet television series. Berle, who reneged on an infamous NBC contract which had paid him for well over a decade to stay off the air, had himself returned to the weekly variety show grind that fall of 1966 on ABC, and he had Hornet stars Van Williams and Bruce Lee as his guests. His not all that kind intro included a statement to the effect that he was "sure the show would become the hit Batman is in time." Ummm, sure, Uncle Miltie. (Berle's show tanked even bigger than The Green Hornet and suffered a similar one season fate).
The really fascinating thing about The Green Hornet is that at the time it was roundly dismissed as a not very good Batman wannabe, and not all that many people—at least in the United States—were even paying attention to the supporting player who portrayed the Hornet's trusty sidekick (literally—he would kick villains in their sides), Kato. Of course, 20/20 hindsight being what it is, virtually everyone now knows that actor was none other than Bruce Lee, and his depiction of Kato set him out on a tragically brief but incredibly lustrous career as the reigning kung fu star of his era. In fact his popularity was such that when The Green Hornet was licensed for Asian broadcast, it was renamed The Kato Show. One of Lee's first, and most successful, post-Hornet enterprises was the iconic martial arts film Fist of Fury (sometimes mistakenly known as The Chinese Connection due to one of the funnier mixups in Hong Kong film history*), a revenge fantasy of sorts built around the real life early 20th century developments in the Shanghai International Settlement. Lee portrayed Chen Zhen, a student of the Jingwu school, who seeks to avenge the murder of his master at the hands of the nefarious Japanese. The film was an international sensation and helped to catapult Lee to superstar status.
The character of Chen Zhen took on a life of its own post-Lee, and a number of major martial arts stars have continued the Zhen story in one way or another, including Bruce Li, Jet Li, Jackie Chan and Donnie Yen, who portrayed Zhen in a long running television series also entitled Fist of Fury and who now appears in this feature film adaptation that picks up the Zhen story more or less from the point the television series left off. The series actually ended with what was presumed to be Chen Zhen's death, but as is so often the case with successful properties that want to continue raking in franchise coin, that supposition is simply countered with sleight of hand, and we instead find Chen Zhen in the midst of World War I, as part of a Chinese brigade that is helping the allies. Part of the interest of Legend of the Fist, as it was to a perhaps lesser degree in various previous outings of this story, is how it takes supposedly well known historical facts and views them through a distinctly Chinese nationalist lens. Few people nowadays probably even realize the Chinese fought on the side of the Allies in the so-called Great War. The Chinese, at least the Chinese in Legend of the Fist, feel ignored and betrayed by the Allies after the conclusion of World War I, a conclusion the Chinese feel they helped accomplish. The film then segues back to China after the war, where Chen Zhen joins a bunch of Chinese nationalists intent on exiling the many foreign elements, chief among them the Japanese, who are making power grabs inside his country.
The other historical aspect playing into Legend of the Fist is therefore the perhaps better known long simmering feud between Japan and China, which in the context of Legend of the Fist, is just about to erupt into the second Sino-Asian War. In fact what may be troublesome to Western viewers (and probably Japanese viewers) is the resolutely anti-Japanese tenor of Legend of the Fist, which goes hand in glove with an incipient Chinese nationalism that is perhaps completely understandable but at the same time too hackneyed and repetitive in the film, bludgeoning the viewer over the head with Chinese pride when instead a gentle suggestion might have been more effective.
Legend of the Fist no doubt plays a good deal better to its intended Chinese audience than to "outsiders," which is not to say there certainly aren't enjoyable aspects to the film. But there are a number of curious aspects to Legend of the Fist that hobble its ultimate effectiveness. First of these is a really strange production design issue which blends a number of disparate historical timelines and keeps the film from being a really evocative recreation of its supposed era, the late 1920's through mid 1930's. Notice, for example, that the cars are almost all late 1940's and early 1950's Buicks. Evidently time travel was popular in the Shanghai International Settlement. But also at least a little weird is Chen Zhen's "superhero" get up, once he assumes the guise of The Masked Warrior in order to vanquish the dreaded Japanese (almost invariably called "Japs" in the film). Obviously based on Bruce Lee's Kato outfit, one wonders what kind of splash a leather clad masked figure like Zhen might have made in Shanghai's notoriously dissolute nightclub scene of that time.
The film also suffers from what evidently were large chunks of the film left on the cutting room floor, at least if you can deduce that from some of the supplementary interview material included on the accompanying DVD of this Blu-ray release. A subplot involving lounge singer cum Japanese spy Kiki (Shu Qi) and the main villain Chikiraishi (Kohata Ryuichi) is never even hinted at, let alone developed, in the final cut of the film. And several major plot points just sort of appear out of thin air with little or no preparation or motivation. The film is therefore too episodic and even anecdotal to ever whip up much momentum. There are also some missteps, some of them actually funny, along the way. Like Superman's Clark Kent, who effectively "disappeared" behind his alter ego by simply donning a suit, all Chen Zhen has to do to disguise himself as Qi, the person whose identity he assumes, is to paste on a pencil thin mustache. Two supporting characters, Kiki, the supposed romantic interest, and Liu, the club owner, are also given short shrift, having to cobble together characters out of a line or two that really don't make much sense in the long run.
What ultimately saves Legend of the Fist are the exciting action sequences, which once again prove that Yen is not just a performer of unusual athletic skill, he's also a fight choreographer of impeccable grace and timing. While there are probably too few of these action sequences for some, what's here is bracing and often crazy-wonderful in that best hyperbolic martial arts movie tradition. While it's interesting to see a sort of gangster element in this film that resorts to actual gunfire, the hand to hand combat sequences are brilliantly effective, including the standard climactic battle where Yen takes on a roomful of Japanese and dispatches them with relative ease.
Legend of the Fist is fine as far as it goes, but the problem is it simply doesn't go far enough. A lot of martial arts films are frankly padded to the point of being bloated, but Legend of the Fist is a film that could have benefited from just a little more time, attention and detail added to both Chen Zhen's story as well as several of the important supporting characters. Instead what we're offered is kind of like a Reader's Digest version of some story we're not all that familiar with to begin with. While it's at least arguable that most of the "best bits" (namely, the fight sequences) are still in this condensed version, it's obvious that large chunks of the story were left by the wayside, and that ultimately makes Legend of the Fist less enjoyable than it could and should have been.
(*Somehow the titles of Bruce Lee's first two feature films got transposed when they migrated stateside, and for years Fist of Fury was mistakenly entitled The Chinese Connection, what should have been the title of his first film. This evidently comes under the category of "lost in translation").
Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen Blu-ray, Video Quality
Legend of the Fist punches onto Blu-ray with an enticing AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 2.35:1 that makes the most of the film's opulent settings. Some establishing shots feature decent looking CGI that helps recreate a not very accurate Shanghai, but which give the film a little epic sweep before it settles down into its main story. Colors are especially vivid throughout this presentation, popping very nicely in both the nightclub sequences, as well as the "outdoor" segments which are often nicely filtered toward a cool blue end of the spectrum. The opening war sequence is also in this same gray-blue palette, but for once the filtering is done without sacrificing sharpness, clarity or detail. Fine detail is in fact exceptional throughout this release, and even regular bugaboos like houndstooth patterns on suit jackets do not devolve into moiré or aliasing. Some of the fine detail is truly astounding. Watch for example the brief interstitial of a printing press pounding out "extra" special editions to announce the arrival of The Masked Warrior, and the amount of detail on the printing presses is incredible—it almost seems individual naps on the ink pads are noticeable. This sequence also boasts the excellent black levels that support the film's darker elements.
Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There's no Cantonese track included on this Blu-ray, so with both lossless offerings which are on board, a Mandarin DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, you're going to have to deal with copious dubbing which can be extremely distracting. If you can get past the old bugaboo of lips not exactly synching with phonemes, there's a lot to love on both of the lossless offerings, starting with the incredibly boisterous and immersive war sequence which kicks off this film. Bullets and explosions fly in from every possible combination of surrounds until the listener feels like the war is literally in the home theater environment. Things calm down a little once the film returns to Shanghai, but there's an unusual amount of immersion throughout this film, whether it be in the nightclub specialty music sequences, or the passing gangster gunfights, or indeed the spectacular hand to hand combat scenes which are probably this film's most potent allure. Fidelity is excellent and LFE is throbbingly robust. Dynamic range is incredibly impressive throughout this film.
Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
As has been the case lately with WellGo Collector's Edition Blu-rays, some of the supplements are on the Blu-ray with the main feature, while others are included on a supplementary DVD. The Blu-ray extras are:
Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Legend of the Fist is a fun companion piece to the many other Chen Zhen properties of the big and small screens, but it misses capturing the brass ring by being too quick and chopped up to ever really connect with the audience. Yen proves himself once again to be one of the most deadly earnest and athletic martial arts stars working currently, and he brings a vigorous energy to the film, but the story itself only works in dribs and drabs. If you're not too demanding, there's a lot to enjoy in Legend of the Fist, and the Blu-ray presentation is certainly spectacular. Recommended.
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