Jet Li's Fearless Review
By Joe Lozito
The Great Brawls of China
After several less-than-stellar attempts to break into the mainstream ("Kiss of the Dragon"
, "Cradle 2 The Grave", "Unleashed"
), martial arts master Jet Li returns to that which he does best - fighting lots and lots of guys (and often) - in "Jet Li's Fearless".
Set at the turn of the previous century, "Fearless" is based on the true story of Huo Yuanjia, the legendary founder of a Shanghai martial arts school which is still in existence today. Raised by a stern father, himself a great fighter, Yuanjia has one of those classic martial arts movie educations (as a boy he is never formally trained, but learns to be the best by watching others train) and after a humiliating defeat, he vows never to lose again. Yuanjia is better than his word, quickly growing up to become none other than Jet Li himself, knocking down opponents in one bravura fight scene after another.
There is, of course, plenty of hubris to go around as Yuanjia strives for the single-minded purpose of being the best fighter in all of Tianjin. As is often the case in films such as these, there is a lull when the main character hits rock bottom and must learn the true meaning of honor. In this case, Yuanjia finds himself befriended by a beautiful blind villager named Moon. While those scenes are pretty to look at, we wait for his inevitable return to the ring.
Despite its innocuous name, "Fearless" actually has a story to tell about a time when the China was struggling to retain its identity amid a tide of western influence. This is exemplified in a series of staged fights between the Chinese (represented here by Yuanjia) and fighters from around the world, most memorably Hercules O'Brien (Nathan Jones).
Jet Li's final martial arts film (though there are rumors of a match up with Jackie Chan) is also one of his best. In the past, Mr. Li's charisma rarely extended outside his fight scenes, but in "Fearless" Mr. Li proves adept and making Yuanjia arrogant but human. Teamed up with veteran director Ronny Yu and renowned choreographer Yuen Wo Ping, Mr. Li does some of his best work here. "Fearless" sits up there next to his reigning masterpiece, 1994's "Fist of Legend". Whether or not this is truly his last martial arts film, Mr. Li leaves us wanting more.