Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

We are told that ‘Fearless’ represents Jet Li’s exit from the martial arts film genre due to his perceived misinterpretation of the Wu Shu style of fighting.  If this is accurate then it would be tragic as we film watchers would no longer be privy to such classics as ‘Once upon a time in china’ ‘Fist of Legend’ or ‘Hero’.  It seems that Jet will now focus more on action adventure films, such as ‘Romeo must Die’, ‘The One’ and ‘Kiss of the Dragon’ which makes his no martial arts decree doubly tragic.  But if ‘Fearless’ is his last, then at least he’s giving the genre he helped make so popular a proper send off.

Jet plays the legendary Chinese fighter Hou Youanjia, the son of a great fighter and martial arts teacher.  Due to an asthmatic condition, Youanjia is not allowed to fight, much to his dismay.  But when he gets easily bested by the son of a rival teacher, Youanjia promises to dedicate his life to learning the martial arts craft.  Now a young man, Younjia has everything that he could possibly want.  He is the most respected and feared fighter in his province, and has students begging to join his clan.  Youanjia has also become brash, arrogant and insensitive, ignoring his mother’s warnings and neglecting his motherless daughter in pursuit of more glory and fighting accolades.

To be the man, you gotta beat the man, and there is still one rival master the Youanjia has yet to best.  When a student of his is attacked by the clan of the rival school for some unknown transgression, Youanjia now has the perfect opportunity to challenge the man to a long, brutal, violent and ultimately pointlessly tragic battle.  The fallout from the results of this fight end up destroying Younajia’s life, as well as the lives of his perceived enemies and drives him to the brink of insanity, aimlessly wandering the countryside for years.

During his lengthy sabbatical, Youanjia learns the value of life and returns home only to find foreign interest have taken over the town in which he lived.  Refreshed and refocused, Youanjia now vows to use his immeasurable fighting skills to restore his countries pride by battling the greatest fighters from the occupying lands, and hopefully restore his own pride in the process.

Now ‘Fearless’ was a very good film, directed with skill by Ronny Yu of ‘The Bride with White Hair’ fame with fight scenes choreographed by the incomparable Woo Yu Ping (Matrix, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon).  However, I couldn’t shake the feeling after watching ‘Fearless’ that something was missing.  The movie seemed to be in rush to be over with elements leaping from point to point instead of gradually revealing them.  I’m sure if I did a little research, I would find out that the original Chinese cut of the film was probably an hour or more longer, and though the movie wasn’t brief with a running time of about an hour and forty minutes it still seemed rushed and hacked.  I understand the problem however, that American distributors probably worry about the wisdom releasing a three hour long kung fu flick to American audiences with phenomenally short attention spans.  But it doesn’t change the fact that it seemed very important elements were cut out of the theatrical version of the film I saw.  I would also imagine that a film of this magnitude in China, with the reverence Hou Youanjia is afforded in his homeland, would not be given such as a glossed over treatment.

That being said, as it stands, ‘Fearless’ is still worth seeing in its present form if only for the fight scenes which were outstanding.  It’s good to see a nice Kung fu fight without extensive use of CGI and wires.  Good old fashioned ass kicking.  And there’s nothing wrong with that in my book.  For anyone who calls themselves a fan of martial arts films, Fearless is definitely a can’t miss film.  For those who call them selves a fan of films in general, you may want to wait for an uncut DVD version to see the director’s actual vision of what this movie should be, and not the dumbed down version dumped on us stupid Americans.

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