For sheer martial arts excitement, “Fist of Legend” stands as one of Jet Li’s most impressive films, and that’s saying a lot considering that most fans of Li knows he’s put out some very excellent action movies in his Hong Kong career, before making the jump to Hollywood. Many fans might know Li from his American films, in particular “Lethal Weapon 4”, where he played a villain for the first time in his career, and “Romeo Must Die” with the late Aaliyah.
Li’s recent offering was “Kiss of the Dragon,” a French production with French auteur Luc Besson, who wrote and produced. As you can probably tell by the titles of his movies, Li is an action star, although he constantly shows that he has range, even if he’s rarely allowed to express them to their fullest potential. And as action films go, “Fist of Legend” stands as one of the very best.
“Fist of Legend” is a loose remake of Bruce Lee’s “Chinese Connection”, and in fact the film was advertised in the East as “The New Chinese Connection.” Both films involves Chinese men being pushed around in their own country by the Japanese Imperial army that has subjugated it. Both main characters, Lee in “Connection” and Li in “Fist”, are of the “don’t take crap” kind. (Incidentally, both men’s last names are pronounced exactly the same.) Li has said on many occasions that “Fist” was an homage to Lee’s “Connection,” and it’s a very good homage indeed.
The action is, in a word, incredible. Eagle-eye readers might notice that there wasn’t one name under “director,” but two. The second name, Woo-ping Yuen, is a long-time Li collaborator. Yuen is a martial arts master, a fight choreographer, who has done almost all of Li’s movies, and numerous others for other people. In fact, the Wachowski brothers of “Matrix” fame was so impressed by the man’s work that they brought him over from Hong Kong to work on the fights in their films. How’s that for a resume?
Alas, the main storyline behind “Fist” is not very interesting. We’ve all seen the “avenge my master” storyline in Hong K090ong movies way too many times, so much so that it’s become a punchline. What this movie is about, then, is not the revenge itself — but the fights between Li and numerous opponents.
And make no mistake, Li fights a lot of people in this one, many of them pitting him against an army of foes at once. In one scene Li takes on an entire school of Japanese karate students, similar to what Lee did in “Connection.” But where Lee sometimes strayed into comedic territory with “Connection,” Li is downright serious here.
For fans who have never been impressed with Chinese films, or the Hong Kong kinetic filmmaking style in particular, I recommend “Fist of Legend” as your introduction. Once you’ve seen this one, you’ll begin to expect much more from your Hong Kong productions. Unfortunately, you’ll be disappointed, because there’s not that many movie out there that wows the way “Fist” did in 1994, and still does now.
Gordon Chan, Woo-ping Yuen (director) / Lan Kay Toa, Kwong Kim Yip (screenplay)
CAST: Jet Li …. Chen Zhen
Siu-hou Chin …. Huo Ting-en