Fist of Legend is a fight fan’s dream movie. It is Jet Li on top of his form, showing just how much of a very gifted actor he really is early on, and hopefully one day Hollywood takes notice and gives him a chance to show his range. The film’s main premise would be the conflict between the Chinese and the Japanese, or rather, who are the best fighters? But the film does delve into something much deeper. The film also explores the differences and social tensions between the Chinese and the Japanese. Jet Li’s character is a young martial artist sent to Japan to find new skills and methods so that the Chinese may combat the Japanese more effectively. While in Japan, he receives word that his master had been killed in a duel with a Japanese master. Li returns home to Shanghai to pay his last respects and decides to get to the bottom of his master’s death.
The characters are also well-delivered in spite of potentially crippling English dubbing that plagues most martial arts DVD’s available in the West. The fight sequences are excellently placed and does further add to the film’s strengths. The fights are quite long and radiate sheer intensity. Unlike other films where wirework is predominate, Gordan Chan literally lowered the ceilings and kept this film grounded throughout. The result is a kinetic picture, a tapestry woven by hardcore punching, kicking, grappling, and weapons combat.
Don’t be discouraged that this story is not at all original. But don’t treat it like a carbon copy of the Chinese Connection either. Still, when there’s action, there’s lots of it, and well done action at that. This is one of the few movies where he is able to show the full extent of his breathtaking talent and unblemished form. Although Woo-Ping’s has become a legend for mastering the art of wire work, most of the fight sequences in Fist of Legend are free of additional aids – meaning, you get real fight sequences like the original.
The Fu genre has many ups and downs, and many cadences. Fist of Legend is one of the saving graces of the genre. Jet Li is very good, both as an actor and martial artist, playing the conflicted protagonist Chen Zen. Fist of Legend really is one of those classic films that can provide an entry point for those unfamiliar with the genre. The action is more grounded. The themes are timeless and it’s also a showcase for one of the true masters of his craft, putting on what may prove to be the performance of his life.