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Original Title:
Jing wu feng yun: Chen Zhen

Hong Kong, China 2010

Martial Arts

Andrew Lau

Donnie Yen
Shu Qi
Anthony Wong
Ryuichi Kohata
Huang Bo
Yang Zhou
Huo Siyan
Shawn Yue
Yasuaki Kurata
Karl Dominik

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Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen

Story: Chen Zhen (Donnie Yen) has gone to Europe with some Chinese workers and fights alongside the French during World War I, after he has avenged his master's death and staged his own. When he comes back to China he takes on the identity of a fallen comrade and from that time onward works for a secret society that is taking action against the Japanese in the country and wants to see China reunited. That's why Chen works undercover at the club "Casablanca" which is lead by rich businessman Liu Yitian (Anthony Wong). Liu has the British and the Japanese among his guests but in his heart he is a nationalist and so it's not difficult for Chen to win his trust. At the same time the singer at the club, Kiki (Shu Qi), is keeping an eye on Chen as she is ordered to spy on him by the Japanese, led by the cruel general Chikaraishi (Ryuichi Kohata). Chen Zhen tries to uphold law and order in the city but when the Japanse publish a death list the city is descending into chaos. On a political level things get more tricky as well as general Zeng (Shawn Yue) could be the man that decides the fate of China depending on which side he chooses, the Japanese or the Chinese.

Review: "Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen" is a sequel to the well-known "Fist of Fury" with Bruce Lee. After Jet Li has already played the role of the national hero successfully, it's now Donnie Yen's turn. In fact, it's the second time for him as he has played him before in a TV series. The movie picks up exactly where the original left off. Chen Zhen isn't dead obviously and has his hands full keeping China together in a Shanghai controlled by the Japanese. The most apparent problem is that the script is overloaden and tries to weave some political aspects into the story only to lose sight of them a little bit later and that the potentially dramatic moments lose any impact as the script doesn't seem to know itself what it actually wants. Adding to that is that director Andrew Lau ("Infernal Affairs", "Confession of Pain") offers only empty style without backing it up in any way. Even simple scenes feel completely over the top this way. This makes "Legend of the Fist" a sequel that can't continue the story of Chen Zhen adequately.

The comparatively high production values can be seen in every picture. Especially the prelude of the movie is an eye candy highlight when the one-man-army Chen Zhen fights through the ranks of the soldiers on the battlefield of World War I. Sadly, that's exactly the point from where on the film's quality drops. After that Chen is seen at the club most of the time, being the cool dude he is, attending some sort of business whereas it never becomes clear what kind of business this is. Anyway, he can win over the trust of the club manager and that's crucial to win his power and money for the cause of resisting the Japanese. The people in the resistance themselve have no idea how to proceed, though. Of course every step has to be well-though-out since the Japanese have their spies everywhere but at some point it starts to get annoying that Chen Zhen seems to be the only one who is actually doing something against the Japanese. At least the movie is realistic when it comes to what he can achieve since no man alone can face a whole nation and succeed. He also can't unite the country all by himself, but what he can do is cut the losses and if it comes to a fight he can take on even a whole army of thugs.

Chen Zhen himself is unbeatable. That makes the moments look even more clumsy in which he is suddenly simply taken prisoner or temporary has some problems dealing with the villian of the film in combat. That is because at any other point he fights any obstacle that comes in his way with ease. The fights are to be found in the movie in a relatively evenly scattered fashion, but they are seldomly motivated by anything so that they are sometimes even looking rather out of place. On the other hand that isn't really standing out as a flaw since the movie as a whole is edited rather haphazardly. The pacing is always quite high and there are some scenes that are undoubtfully meant to create some tension. But they can't as the characters and the events in the film can't move us in any way. Most of all that is because the action doesn't unfold in a natural way but instead is forced by the script. We don't get to understand the characters as things progress but instead they are "explained" to us. Who is doing what and why is he important in what way. Of course this isn't how any kind of character development can unfold and the fate of the individual persons leave us cold.

"Legend of the Fist" is actually quite merciless when it comes to the demise of certain characters. But what use are such chances to build some emotional moments and drama if the movie doesn't create any groundwork for it? Shu Qi clearly plays a supporting character despite her spending quite a lot of time on screen and even though her portrayal is passable her character seems to have gotten the shorter end when the script was written. Anthony Wong, as is often the case, is the only one who can get a bit more out of his role, but he hasn't got much to work with either. Donnie Yen goes back to his roots which sadly means that he doesn't act but is instead giving one giant advertising clip revolving around his character. He has to look cool and suave at any time in the movie and doing so is his only concern. "Ip Man" has been such an acting surprise by him because he finally played a character with some restraint. This time, though, he proves to be a slave to his habits again and it doesn't matter for the quality of the movie that Donnie Yen is in fact looking cool most of the time. His respectful nods to Bruce Lee like his battle shouts, the numbchucks or the "Green Hornet"-mask seem a bit out of place since his ego doesn't leave any room to pay tribute to someone else.

The grandiose sets, the polished look and a few nice fights in which Donnie Yen mixes different styles and by that brings more diversity to the movie deserve some credit, however. Andrew Lau's artificially pumped-up pacing, the flashy pictures and the editing so typical for his movies simply don't fit into the film and once again prove that Lau can't deliver more than style without substance when his buddy Alan Mak isn't at his side. That is because the screenplay isn't thought out at all, is only touching a possible political direction in a clumsy manner and as a whole is simply overloaden. Moreover, the soundtrack isn't fitting at all times and the fights are also too flashy to be really captivating. All in all this may make "Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen" decent action cinema if you can live with the incoherent script and it once more shows that Donnie Yen is - with a bit of a delay - the new action star in the martial arts genre but in many respects the movie simply fails completely.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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