The Chinese People Are Not Sick Men of the East!
Drewchum shows himself to be a racial stereotype yet again by suggesting that I review yet another martial arts movie. Being somewhat disappointed in the last one I watched had the opposite effect of what I expected by making me want to watch more martial arts movies to find the really cool ones instead of wanting to avoid them because they’re boring nowadays. The combination of that and this movie’s availability on Netflix streaming lead me to decide to review this movie post haste. And that leads me to my review of Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen, written by Andrew Lau and Gordon Chan, directed by Andrew Lau, and starring Donnie Yen, Kohata Ryu, Shu Qi, Anthony Wong, Huang Bo, Akira, Zhou Yang, and Yasuaki Kurata.
In World War 1, Chen Zhen (Donnie Yen) joins the Allies to fight the Germans in France. When his friend Qi Tianyuan is killed in battle, Chen rushes in and singlehandedly defeats a large group of German soldiers. He then decides that he will return to China and assume the identity of Qi Tianyuan so that no one would know that Chen was not dead after the events of Fist of Legend, back when Chen was still Jet Li. Back in Shanghai, he befriends a businessman named Liu Yutian (Anthony Wong) and becomes his partner at the nightclub he owns. He also has a budding romance with the nightclub singer, Kiki (Shu Qi). But, more importantly, he’s part of an underground resistance movement whose goal is to take China back from the Japanese that are occupying it. The main thing that Chen Zhen does to participate is to dress up like Kato from the Green Hornet and beat up Japanese evildoers. But the Japanese Colonel Chikaraishi Takeshi (Kohata Ryu) has some sinister plans to cause unrest in China that only Chen can stop.
Another story-heavy martial arts movie. I’m bummed out by the state of the martial arts genre. I know that this character and this story are probably really important to the Chinese people, but I’m a white dude. I just want to see spectacular fights! The story is pretty solid, but not enough of what I want. It’s all about the Chinese trying to win back China from the oppressive Japanese. It’s a story of the underdog rebellion, and there’s a little bit of love story and a betrayal as well. But the rebellion side of the story was a lot more talking about what they were going to do instead of actually doing it. They start off with a really cool action scene in the middle of World War 1. Then you don’t get much of any action for a good long stretch of time. When Chen Zhen first becomes the Masked Warrior, he whoops a good few asses in a pretty brief, but pretty awesome fight scene which included not only cool martial arts, but a few bits of him jumping over the car in a cool way. Then, not much of anything for a long stretch of time. It’s not until the point when Takeshi challenges Chen Zhen to try to save more people on his death list than he can kill that the movie starts picking up, but that’s almost at the end. I will grant that the final fight of the movie is epic in its awesomeness. It’s an homage to the movies that preceded it as Chen Zhen once again walks into a dojo full of Japanese people, whips all of their asses, and then defeats their sensei. The problem with this movie was not the action but the lack of it. So much sitting around and talking about what the next move is. Just make it! And the whole relationship with Kiki part – though it does have a few moments of emotional impact – mostly just seemed to be a long waste of time. You have to watch a lot of her singing and hanging out with people in the nightclub and vaguely flirting with Chen Zhen before you have to start watching them dating. Then there’s a bunch of that before they start getting some emotional impact out of it, but I was already well into bored by that point.
The performances were mostly fine in this movie. Knowing that Donnie Yen was jumping into a role that was made famous by Bruce Lee, I was looking for things that he did to be more similar to Bruce Lee. Most of the early fights never really struck me as that similar to Bruce Lee, but he really reminded me of Lee in the final fight and I appreciated that. Shu Qi was relentlessly cute for the greater majority of the movie, which makes it that much more painful when the ending comes about. Kohata Ryu did not work for me as Colonel Chikaraishi Takeshi. He may have been able to fulfill the action side of the movie as well as the Japanese side of his character, but all of the lines he delivered were done so in a very wooden fashion and I found him boring more often than not.
Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen was pretty disappointing for me. The story of the movie was good, but was really slow moving and focused more on the relationship between Kiki and Chen Zhen, and the planning of the rebellion, than on the actual execution of the rebellion. I will say that the action, and especially the final fight, tended to satisfy me more often than not. I would say this movie is worth watching, but expect it to move pretty slowly until the end of the movie. If you’d like, you can check it out right now on Netflix streaming. Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen gets “Great … if you skip to the last half hour” out of “MAKE MORE FACE PUNCHING!!”
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