Sunday, September 24, 2006

Jet Li's Fearless

Until seeing "Fearless," I have to confess I had only heard Ronny Yu's name as the director of "Bride of Chucky." While that one certainly has its comedic merits, it didn't lead me to expect what he could deliver here.

In yet another example of movie-marketing genius, this one is seemiingly being pitched to the same target audience as "Jackass: Number Two": Young men. While I haven't been considered young for some time now, I'm sure I will eventually see both movies, but doubt there will be tremendous crossover audience.

That's because, despite the ads and trailers promising an epic battle between Jet Li, as Chinese champion Huo Yuanjia, and four champions representing the foreign powers dominating China in the early 20th century, that's not what this is about. Well, it sort of it is, for about 20 minutes or so at the beginning and end.

In between it's something we haven't seen told this well for many years. In short, its the story of the warrior, and what it means to be a real one in the Chinese tradition of wushu. And it's a role Jet Li was born to play.

As such, the story will seem very familiar. Cocky champion falls from grace, recovers in the outback while learning humility, and then returns in triumph. But knowing they're working on well-worn turf, Yu and writer Chris Chow keep the biographical saga of the warrior Huo moving at a brisk pace.

Even so, there is as much emphasis on the redemption of Huo as there is on his exploits in the ring. It's in these quiet moments that Li proves, given the chance he rarely is by Western directors, he can be a great actor, able to speak volumes with very few words. He's helped here by great contributions from Yong Dong, as Huo's lifelong friend Nong Jinsun, and the charming Betty Sun, as the blind woman who helped him through his time in exile.

This being a Jet Li movie, of course, what fighting there is is first-rate. Though some of the acrobatics still defy reality, this isn't the wire-fu that makes Zhang Ziyi fly through trees. It's just great, well-choreographed kung fu action.

And the ending, which I won't give away here, completes the journey for Huo, and indeed for Jet Li. It has Mr. Li going out, if this really his last kung fu epic, exactly how he should. As a true warrior.


Sameer Vasta said...

I skipped Fearless this weekend because I just had too much to do. Now you have me wishing I didn't.

Reel Fanatic said...

I recommend it highly, Vasta ... Like I said, it wasn't at all what I expected, but it was a pleasant surprise

Anonymous said...

I'm going to see it tonight. I'm really looking forward to it and your review have made me a little more excited!

Reel Fanatic said...

I'll definitely have to stop by to see what you thought, Marina .. I'm confident you will like it, but I guess we'll see!

Shaun Huston said...

I didn't really know much about Ronny Yu either, except that he was the original director on Snakes on a Plane (and the guy who hooked Samuel Jackson). He's also the director of the classic The Bride with White Hair, but I wasn't aware of that fact until checking up on him post-Fearless.

Reel Fanatic said...

I had no idea he was attached to Snakes, Shaun ... I thought it turned out just about perfect about perfect in Ellis' hands, though