by Chris Parry
Jet Li. In the US, his name emits groans of "oh yeah, the kung fu guy," and fair enough too since the US film industry seems to have all but neglected Li's finest work from Hong Kong, and seems unable to cast him in anything that comes close to his best work. If you've never seen Jet Li in his Hong Kong period pieces, then you have no idea that this man is the finest martial artist actor to have ever donned the two-toed sandals. Agile and brooding, powerful and compelling, the Jet has the pure fighting style and dominant screen presence to be a true Hollywood action legend, but sadly, just as happened with Bruce Lee, Hollywood has no idea what to do with a Chinaman. Fist of Legend should be lesson number one for anyone in the studio system that needs a clue.Jet Li plays a Chinese martial artist of note, studying in Japan at about the time when the two countries were gearing up for battle. When a rival dojo comes to seek him out in school, with a view to beating him up and sending him back where he came from, Li doles out one of the finest, most realistic, bone-cracking ass-kickings ever put on film. He takes a finger and, rather than just breaking it, resets it at an angle that a finger just shouldn't go. He slams fist, foot and head home with such ferocity and speed that you honestly find it hard to watch. He contorts arms and crashes through legs like his opponents are made of rubber.
"If you don't feel the bones breaking, you're not watching closely enough."
Which of course leads to the Japanese dojo getting into a big stink with his own clan and much more ass-kicking on a grander scale. Throw in a little side story where Li's Japanese girlfriend sees him have to fight his clan brother and take exile in the woods, only to return to discover that his former master was poisoned before being beaten in battle, and what you have is a lot of flimsy excuses for many freaked out fight scenes, none of which let you down on the excitement level.
Of course, it's not high art. As Li battles a Japanese martial arts master in a blindfold, you might give a few groans here and there, but the overall skill and choreography of the scene far surpasses it's initial hokieness. Likewise the big end scene, where Li battles a man almost twice his size, goes on for such a long time that by the end, though you should be saying to yourself "any normal man would have been killed ten minutes ago," instead you find yourself just marveling at what Li and his co-stars can dish out and take.Fist of Legend, a loose remake of Bruce Lee's Fist of Fury, is the kind of martial arts movie that non-martial arts movie-lovers can watch, enjoy, and find themselves maybe wanting to know more about the genre afterwards. As a pure adrenalin rush, it's unbeatable, and as a finely polished action movie with a little bit of Asian pre-war political insight thrown in, you can't go wrong. Give it a try.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=1846&reviewer=1
originally posted: 07/17/02 07:47:47