Director Andrew Lau and action star Donnie Yen mark the official beginning of my Fantastic Fest week in review. I am having a great time here checking out all the celebs and film screenings. One of the great things about TIFF is that in addition to the heavier, Oscar worthy titles premiering at the fest, there were also a lot of fan boy-friendly, genre movies playing as well. Sad to report though, The Fist of Legend: The Return of Chen Zhen is this year’s worst Hong Kong action film. Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Donnie Yen used to be able to do no wrong, but it seems he is aon a downward spiral that seems to get deeper and deeper with every film he releases. He hovers over the city, wearing a black suit and mask and starts fighting the Japanese single-handedly.
Never in my life have I seen a film so gory yet been bored to tears. It has every movie genre in one, shoved in Batman, Green Hornet, war movies, black & white, color, undercover heist movies, and every kind of gimmick shoved into this mess of a film. This is being pitched squarely as a sequel to Yen’s own TV version from the ’90s, which is better-known in China than the ’72 film. And certainly the tone looks closer to the series than the movie, which was restrained by comparison. Since it is billed as a sequel, one would expect it to be more grounded and more traditional in the sense of a martial arts period piece.
You might think I am being a bit too hard on this film, but after you’ve seen this movie you’ll whole heartedly agree with me. Once Yen goes undercover as a nightclub owner, Legend of the Fist gets a tad talky for a martial arts flick. However, once it gets going, Yen, who also served as action master on this film, delivers the film’s best and most breathtaking fight sequence. Which I can only deem as the films only good quality. It becomes painfully obvious that Andrew Lau’s biggest misstep is not utilizing Donnie Yen to his full potential. While I prefer his older movies like SPL, and Flashpoint, it’s nonetheless a solid piece of work on his behalf. It is just too bad the direction bogged the whole film down.
All in all, my biggest complaint is that everyone involved has been better. In any career, in any occupation, the idea is to get better with age, to make your next project better than the last. It seems that everyone here was just trying to cash a paycheck. At the end of the day, the audience is going into Legend of the Fist for the action. But, that doesn’t excuse shoddy filmmaking, at least not for this reviewer. Chinese and Hong Kong audiences will be critical of this take on an iconic cultural hero, and Bruce Lee definitely doesn’t deserve this kind of disrespect, even if the film does feel tailored to Western audiences. It is a shame that the action scenes were not on display more. Skip everything else and just see the high flying scenes, you’ll thank me later.