Story: Chen Zhen (Jet Li) studies in Japan when he hears from the death of his master Huo Yuan Jia. He returns to China to attend his
master's funeral. In the Jing Wu school, were he was taught martial arts since his childhood days, he meets his friend Ting-an (Ching Siu-hou) again,
Huo's son. After that it's easy to find out who is the Japanese master that killed Huo Yuan Jia in a duel. However, when
Chen Zhen faces him in a fight he soon realizes that this man doesn't have the skills to be able to beat a master like Huo. Chen's continueing
investigation shows that Huo has been poisened and that the culprit has to be someone from the Jing Wu school. Furthermore, the Japanese army,
led by ruthless general Fujita (Billy Chow), is doing everything in its power to shut down the Jing Wu school and therefore Japanese martial artists
from all around challenge the new master of the school. Chen Zhen has to leave the school, though, because his girlfriend, the Japanese woman
Mitsuko (Shinobu Nakayama), isn't accepted by the Chinese. Nonetheless, Chen Zhen is still looking for revenge of his master's murder and doesn't
give up finding the killer.
Review: "Fist of Legend" is Jet Li's remake of Bruce Lee's classic "Fist of Fury". Normally, you shouldn't expect much from a remake, but this
martial arts movie produced by Jet Li had soon become a classic itself! The only thing left for me to say is that I totally agree with the opinion
of so many other critics. Concerning the martial arts scenes "Fist of Legend" is in fact Jet Li's best movie to date! The fights are the absolute highlight
of the movie and they also look a lot more realistic and brutal than what we are used to see from Jet Li works. But fortunately that's not all the
film has to offer. Gordon Chan's well done directing, a political/historical background the story uses as a fundament and interesting characters
complete the absolutely positive overall picture. Moreover, Yuen Woo-Ping has been taken on board as choreographer which is an additional reason
why "Fist of Legend" is one of the best martial arts movies of the last few decades.
Even those who know the original with Bruce Lee shouldn't just watch the remake because of its fights. The story also offers some new elements. Standing out the most is that the prejudicial image of the enemy Japan is actually more differentiated this time. Chen Zhen loves a Japanese woman, xenophobia among the Chinese is so common that Chen is forced to leave his school and there aren't just villians among the Japanese. Mitsuko's uncle, played outstandingly by Yasuaki Kurata who outshines everyone else on an acting level and maybe also has the most interesting fight in the movie, still attaches great importance to the old values and therefore isn't that different from Chen Zhen at all. His wisdom leaves no room for perfunctory reflections and so he shares his view of things with Chen as well. Probably that's what making their meeting so interesting. Also, it gives the possibiliy to work some philosophical approaches into the movie which in turn also contain certain links to Bruce Lee's philosophy.
Not just when it comes to the mindset the movie is guided by Bruce Lee but also on a marial arts level. Chen Zhen places emphasis on directness in fights, yet adopts the style of his enemy as well as certain elements of different martial arts that seem to give him an advantage. When Jet Li prances around it fortunately doesn't look like a cheap copy of the martial arts legend, but he brings his own style into his movements, too. Which also brings us to the fights that are scattered throughout the film in a perfectly balanced manner and deliver a lot of action. Fast, hard and spectacular. You really get everything the heart of a martial arts fan desires. The choreography is worked out in every little detail, every fight delivers something extraordinary and is also implemented well into the story. The use of wires is reduced to a minimum, the punches and kicks are rapid and you seldomly have seen so many broken bones or dislocated joints in a Jet Li movie as here.
Apparently, with this film Jet Li wanted to prove to all skeptics that he doesn't need to rely on wires and clever camera work when it comes to fight scenes but that he is a martial artist through and through. And he surely succeeds in this. Push-ups with one hand, resp. on a few fingers or chin-ups with just one arm? No problem for Jet Li, he really shows off this time. Furthermore, you can't get enough of the fights whereas it has to be mentioned that the showdown is the kind of highlight that any movie of this genre should deliver. Even when watching it the first time you know that the fights of this film will stick to you for decades. Everything is just the way it should be.
The directing is mostly standing out with brilliant colors, the sets are all exciting and the score is also captivating, although it has to be pointed out that the american/international version did get a completely new soundtrack.
The story around Chen Zhen is put into a historical framwork. Japan and Germany are in China and administrate a few cities, the British are also present and the Chinese is once again looking like the sick man of the east that can't fight back. Chen portrays the hero who is supposed to face the western powers. Blessed with outstanding talent and the right philosophy he also seems to have a good chance of success. But it's also the other parties that show that things aren't as easy as it might seem at first. Small dialogues like that between Mitsuko's uncle and the Japanese ambassador add a lot to the film concerning this respect and also give it a slightly political note. Besides the well done side characters it is somewhat unfortunate though that the love story between Chen and Mitsuko remains rather heavy-handed.
"Fist of Legend" is an impressive martial arts movie with perfectly choreographed and breathtaking fights. With this film Jet Li has erected a memorial for himself on the same level as Bruce Lee.