Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen
2010, R, 106 min. Directed by Andrew Lau. Starring Donnie Yen, Shu Qi, Anthony Wong.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., April 29, 2011
Can there ever be too much wirework and hand-to-hand mixed martial arts in a Donnie Yen action smashathon? Probably not, but Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen comes close to overdosing on bone-pulverizing kickassery at the expense of a plot that ricochets from the nationalistically fatuous to the lovestruck, farcical before shutting down completely in favor of punch-drunk loveliness. Legend of the Fist opens with breathtaking style in the hellish battlefields of Europe during World War I where Yen, as the titular man of fisticuffs (in a role originated by Bruce Lee and later played by Jet Li), very nearly single-handily whips the Huns and ends the war. After this spectacular set-piece, Lau leapfrogs up the timeline of China's convoluted pre-Mao history to 1925, when British and Japanese forces both attempted to impose their own rule on the country. Chen has become a crusading crime-fighter in disguise, donning a black mask and spending his off nights suavely playing piano in Casablanca, the gangster-infested, neon-drenched club run by Liu Yutian (Wong), while simultaneously eyeing the house chanteuse, Kiki (Qi). Yen's portrayal of Chen Zhen is calculated to remind everyone of Bruce Lee, going so far as to feature a (admittedly thrilling) third-act battle between a nunchakus-wielding Chen and band of swordsmen. The sequence feels an awful lot like both Fists of Fury and a superior version of all of Kato's fight sequences from the recent Green Hornet debacle. What's it all about? I'm going to say "cheap, badass, cinematic escapism," but what appears to be going on behind the scenes is a distinctly anti-Japanese/anti-English nationalistic fervor disguised as historical action slugfest. That's more interesting than watching Chen Zhen make goo-goo eyes at Kiki, although, I've got to admit, when this Legend of the Fist kicks ass – which it does frequently – it does so with undeniable style, story be damned.