Review: Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen

Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen (2010, directed by Andrew Lau)

Although it mutates slightly with every re-telling, the story of Chen Zhen should be familiar to anyone who gives a damn about martial arts flicks. Bruce Lee played him in Fists of Fury. Jet Li played him in Fists of Legend. And now it's Donnie Yen's turn, picking up where he left off from his mid-90s TV show with Legend of the Fist.

The opening scene is hellacious, and maybe the best single sequence of Lau's career. Chinese conscripts, doing the shit jobs in the trenches for the Allies during WWI, get pinned down by a German machine gun nest after the French forces retreat (I know, totally unbelievable, right?). One of their number, Chen Zhen, vows to see them home safely, and then proceeds to tear through the Krauts like a hurricane using nothing but two bayonets and sheer awesome badassery. It's a ridiculous set piece that shows Yen at his intense, acrobatic best.

The movie quiets down considerably after that. Many years after the war, Chen Zhen turns up in occupied Shanghai under an assumed name, and begins working with the resistance to try and kick out the Japanese. From here Legend of the Fist either goes off the rails or becomes a total nuthouse of fun, depending on your perspective, as Lau seemingly tries to shoehorn every single genre he can think of into the movie. There's a Casablanca-esque nightclub run by Johnnie To regular Anthony Wong, a romance with the singer who turns out to be a Japanese spy, Yen running around in a Kato/Black Mask-esque costume to foil assassinations attempts (the movie's other great fight sequence, as Yen steals the costume right off a mannequin to beat up some Japs), rampant xenophobia against anyone non-Chinese, and probably a dozen other bits I'm forgetting.

The final battle in the dojo with the evil Japanese general who killed Chen Zhen's master, and his hordes of incompetent minions, is a letdown after the adrenaline rush of the opening and the street fight in the middle, but for the most part Legend of the Fist is a worthy successor to Jet's effort, even if it can't match Bruce's -- or for that matter, Yen's previous best offerings like SPL. But then, what can, really?

No comments:

Post a Comment