Fist of Legend (1994)

It’s a Good Fist If It Wins.

I’ve been on a real martial arts movie kick recently.  One of my recent reviews led me to this one, but I was also hesitant going in.  Recently, I’ve taken issue with a lot of the martial arts movies I’ve been watching being too story driven and neglecting to put martial arts into their movie for long stretches at a time.  So, when a recent review made me think that I should check out this movie, I was worried that it would share the same problems.  I decided I would watch it if, and only if, the front of the box did not have the word “story” on it.  When the front of the box only had two reviews – “Incredible fight scenes” and “Awe-inspiring” – I was cemented into the movie.  This movie is Fist of Legend, written by Gordonn, Lan Kay-toa, and Kwong Kim-yip, directed by Gordon Chan, and starring Jet Li, Chin Siu-ho, Billy Chow, Yasuaki Kurata, Shinobu Nakayama, Toshimichi Takahashi, Jackson Liu, Ada Choi, and Paul Chun.

Chen Zhen (Jet Li) is at a school in Japan when a bunch of karate students burst in and demand he leave because he’s Chinese.  They get violent with people in the class, but Chen Zhen doesn’t get involved until they almost get violent with Mitsuko Yamada (Shinobu Nakayama), a girl who is smitten with him.  After whooping on the students, their sensei, Funakochi Fumio (Yasuaki Kurata) comes in and apologizes for their behavior, then tells Chen that he’s just learned that Chen’s master, Huo Yuanjia, has lost a match against a Japanese master and died in the aftermath.  Chen leaves for Shanghai immediately.  Upon his return, he hears that Huo was not in the best of health when he competed in the fight.  He goes to the Japanese dojo and easily defeats Ryoichi Akutagawa (Jackson Liu).  Now knowing that there was no way this guy could’ve beaten his master, he has Huo’s grave exhumed and, with an examination of Huo’s liver, finds that he was poisoned.

This is exactly the type of martial arts movie I wanted to watch.  Does that mean that I’m going to stop reviewing so many martial arts movies?  Not just yet.  I feel like I need to also watch the Bruce Lee version of this movie first.  But that’s not to say that I wasn’t satisfied by this remake of that movie; I just feel like I need to see more Bruce Lee movies.  But this is what I mean by a good martial arts movie.  There’s a story to be sure, but the focus is on the martial arts.  They scarcely went 10 minutes in this movie without some good fight scenes.  Still, I’ll talk about the story first.  It’s okay.  Martial arts movies tend to suffer from having no overlying storyline, or in the very least a fairly confused one.  I guess you could say the overlying story of this movie was the problems between China and Japan, but they lost track of that a few times.  They lost their attention on that main story with the investigation of Huo’s murder, which then drove them into Chen getting framed for murder, which then led to Chen leaving the Jingwu school because they wouldn’t accept his Japanese girlfriend Mitsuko, which leads to a Japanese master challenging him, which leads to the Japanese challenging Jingwu … Oh wait a second.  Don’t we hate those Japanese guys?  Back on track!  And then 15 minutes later the movie’s over.  It’s become a big question in my head about how these movies go over in Asia.  I’m sure the Chinese are all about it, but this movie (and Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen) are mostly a big “Fuck You” to the Japanese.  Almost every Japanese person in these movies is either completely inept or entirely evil.  Japanese people must hate these movies.  I imagine it’s akin to how German people feel watching Holocaust movies.  The evil ones are poisoning people, framing people for murder, and trying to beat our hero to death while the inept ones are the peons in the dojo that run up to Chen Zhen and say, “Take your Chinese shoes and get out of here!”  Yeah, good one, bro.

So the story isn’t the greatest thing ever, but does it need to be?  In a martial arts movie?  Hell no!  A martial arts movie (as I’ve said before) is way more fun if it’s martial arts first, movie second.  You can cross a line in the opposite direction, like in Tony Jaa movies, where the story was thought up after they put on an exhibition of all the crazy things Tony Jaa can do.  This movie hits the sweet spot.  The story is fine, but the martial arts are great.  As I already mentioned, they barely go 10 minutes in the movie without getting some faces all nice and punched.  The movie used a not uncommon style with their main character where he’s a nearly indestructible character because of his skill until they reach the end of the movie.  Here, he’ll be challenged by the boss battle at the end, but he’ll overcome it, and usually with something someone off-handedly mentioned earlier in the movie.  But earlier in the movie, no one was really a challenge for Chen Zhen.  He beats the shit out of a classroom full of karate students, even more of them in a dojo, and then he beats up their master.  I liked the fight with the karate master too, because Chen Zhen was so much better than him that he kept just knocking him down and getting right up in his face.  In the fight with Huo Ting-en, he started moving a little more like the man who made the character famous: Bruce Lee.  It was mainly just his stance that reminded me of Bruce Lee, but it was still cool.  There really wasn’t very much to complain about when it came to the fights in the movie.  In the first fight of the movie gives away that the table he was supposed to fall through was fake by landing on a chair first and breaking the table with his hands before falling through it.  They PROBABLY should have not allowed this into the movie, but it didn’t distract that much.

I can’t say there’s generally much to say about the performances in this, or any other, martial arts movie of this kind.  They’re probably not intended to blow your mind.  Jet Li is the only person that makes any kind of impact here.  He’s really good at this role, but it also just required him to be pretty stone-faced and bordering on emotionless for the movie.  It makes his character seem more badass, but also doesn’t get him any props in the acting department.  He’s fantastic at the action though, mainly because he’s still well in his prime in this movie.  He’s so fast that you can barely catch him on camera half the time and his stunts are fantastic.

Fist of Legend is dope.  The story’s pretty basic and goes off on several tangents throughout the movie, but who cares what the story’s like in a martial arts movie?  Not me!  The action is fantastic every time it happens, and it’s spread so evenly throughout the movie that you never wait long for some more ass-kicking goodness.  Not the greatest movie ever, but a whole lot of fun, especially if you like martial arts movies.  You should definitely check this movie out.  I already own it on DVD, so you find out where you can get it yourself!  Fist of Legend gets “If it works, it’s a good one” out of “Does the rock have as much energy as an opponent would?”

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