AKA: Jet Li's Fearless
Year of release: 2006
Genre: martial arts
Director: Ronny Yu
Action director: Yuen Woo-Ping
Producers: Bill Kong, Ronny Yu, Jiang Tao, Cao Biao, Chui Bo-Chu
Writers: Wang Bin, Chow Chun, To Chi-Long, Li Feng
Cinematography: Poon Hang-Sang, Ray Wong
Editors: Virginia Katz, Richard Learoyd
Music: Umebayashi Shigeru
Stars: Jet Li, Ngai Sing, Nakamura Shidou, Dong Yong, Betty Sun Li, Nathan Jones
Rated IIA for violence
In Fearless, Jet Li plays Chinese folk hero Huo Yuanjia, who became a legend after participating in a tournament devised by the encroaching Japanese in the hopes that it would highlight their view that Chinese people were "the sick men of Asia". Even though Huo ended his life being regarded as a valiant and heroic man, for most of it, he was in fact very cocky, using his kung fu skills to crush his competition at the cost of all those around him, and it is this, rather than fisticuffs, which is the main emphasis of Fearless.
For the most part, I really enjoyed Fearless. The fight scenes, while not being up to the level of Jet's work from the "golden age", are outstanding, especially when you consider Jet's age and injuries he has piled up over the years. This is probably also Jet's best work acting-wise. For quite possibly the first time in his career, he has eschwed the "goody-two-shoes" nature of the roles he usually takes and created something fully dimensionsial.
Fearless's main stumbling point occurs near the end of the second act, where Huo is humilated and goes off into the countryside. Eventually, he ends up in a village and falling in love, which gives him the inspiration to go back and fight, this time in the "right" way. There is nothing really wrong with the sequence per se, but it just takes far too long and kills a lot of momentum, especially since the viewer pretty much knows exactly what is going to happen.
But, thankfully, the film comes roaring back with a finale that contains one of the better sequences of fights (which are wonderfully CGI-free) that this reviewer has seen in quite some time. While Fearless isn't Jet's best movie ever, it is definitely much better than a lot of his recent work, and marks a fitting end to the end of his "traditional" kung fu movie career. If you're a martial arts fan, you will not be disappointed with this one.
Note: there has been some confusion as to the promotion of this movie as "Jet Li's last martial arts epic". Li will continue to perform kung fu in movies, but he has said that this will be his last wushu movie (ie, period piece with kung fu as its' central theme).
Li had this to say about the subject in an interview with DVD Talk:
I've made a lot of action films, and when I'm walking down the street a lot of teenagers say, "Jet Li kicks ass!" They are more focused on the physical part. They are more focused on the violence - using violence against violence. Nobody talks about what we in Chinese call Wushu. It's taken for two words. The first word is stop. The second is war. Stop fighting. But right now all action films talk about is fighting. Nobody talks about stopping. Martial arts are a physical part of these films, but the mental part is more important. That's why I put my personal belief, philosophy and experiences into the whole story. That's why I say this is my last Wushu movie, because everything I want to say is already in this film. I will continue to do movies. I just did a movie where a cop fights with mafia gangsters. They have a fight, but for me, that is not martial arts. That's action - beating each other up. I never know a Chinese punch from a Japanese kick from an American elbow. What's the difference? It's just humans fighting, to help the story. It's not about martial arts. This story is perfect to see - through the life journey - what changes you. Why you learn martial arts. How to use them. Who the enemy is. I believe it is yourself. The enemy is yourself.
Manufacturer: Universal/Rogue (catalog number 31683)
Movie running time: 104 mins.
Picture Format: Anamorphic 2.40:1
Sound: Dolby 5.1
Languages: Mandarin, English
Subtitles: English SDH (captions), French, Spanish
Extras: trailers, deleted scene, "A Fearless Journey" (interviews/behind the scenes)
Overall, this is a very solid DVD. The transfer is top-notch, especially the soundtrack, which really brings home the impact of the fights. The disc is pretty light on extras, especially seeing as how this is Jet's "last" martial marts movie, but what is here is pretty good.
The featurette is one of the few interesting ones I've seen on a DVD. It was interesting seeing some of the movie's key players interviewed in English, and they actually give some insight into the movie, instead of the usual "this is greatest movie ever" BS you usually get with these shorts.