Friday, 11 March 2011

Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen


Directed by: Andrew Lau
Screenplay: Gordon Chan
Starring: Donnie Yen, Shu Qui, Anthony Wong

Donnie Yen seems to be jumping from one period marital arts blockbuster to the next, Legend of the Fist coming off the back of such hits as Ip Man 1 & 2, 14 Blades and Bodyguards & Assassins. While Legend of the Fist doesn't reach the heights of some of these action spectaculars it's still a good looking romp that is unfortunately let down by a shaky narrative and not quite delivering on the awesome action fest the trailers and marketing material suggested.

Yen is Chen Zhen, an all round good egg fighting for the Chinese resistance during World War 1 and who just happens to be a martial arts badass. After a stonking opening sequence where Chen Zhen takes out a squad of enemy soldiers on the war torn battlefield, the flick relocates to Shanghai. Here Zhen has taken on the identity of a fallen comrade so he can continue to work for the resistance. He gains the trust of a local crime boss (Wong), cosies up to his girl (Qui) and takes on the persona of a masked vigilante who dishes out kung fu justice against the ever threatening Japanese. Let the ass kicking commence.

Unfortunately, it never really does. There are several impressive sequences of Yen dishing out kung fu combat but considering the trailers and such promised what looked like a rip-snorting martial arts good time, Legend of Chen Zhen feels too bogged down in melodrama. Nothing wrong with trying to make a serious film as afterall, the atrocities of war and the fight of the Chinese against the genocide inclined Japanese (circa WW 1 & 2) are serious subjects but Andrew Lau's film just never really takes off: as a serious drama or an action film. Maybe it's the attempt to fuse the two that doesn't quite work or maybe it's that despite Yen's and the cast's best efforts the dramatic scenes just don't always engage. The narrative seems choppy and somewhat muddled with the whole plot point of Chen becoming a masked superhero type saviour of the common people, more of an after thought than an actual integral part of the storyline.

One the plus side, the period detail is lavishly recreated, with Shanghai a glorious neon lit setting. The action when it does arrive is breathlessly staged and features some impressive kung fu combat. As mentioned the opening sequence is a doozy and there is a great fight where Yen takes on a handful of goons in what seems to be some kind of library room. Unfortunately these sequences are far too short but are very sweet. It must be also mentioned that despite the glossy look, the film is extremely violent in parts with graphic violence and torture making frequent appearances.

With a wandering tone, a lack of focus and a need for a few more action sequences, Legend of the Fist is a little underwhelming. Breathlessly staged in parts and frustratingly plodding in others the film is a mixed bag but worthy of a watch if you are a Donnie Yen fan.

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