Fist of Legend (精武英雄) Made in: Hong Kong Language: Cantonese, Japanese Director: Gordon Chan Starring: Jet Li, Shinobu Nakayama, Siu-Hou Chin, Billy Chau, Yasuaki Kurata Year: 1994
Synopsis: The year is 1937. While studying abroad in Japan, Chen Zhen (Jet Li) hears that his beloved kung fu master back home was killed by a challenger in a one-on-one fight. Distraught, Chen Zhen returns to his native Shanghai. At his kung fu school, he is welcomed back by his best friend, Ting-An (Siu-Hou Chin), who's the son of the school's late master.
Challenging the karate master who killed his teacher, Chen Zhen easily beats him down (and all his students). This sparks Chen Zhen's suspicion, and after examining his master's body, finds proof of foul play.
Back at the kung fu school, new conflicts arise when the popular Chen Zhen begins introducing new martial arts techniques that defy the traditional teachings that he and Ting-An grew up with.
As a rift grows between the two that eventually threaten their friendship, more trouble brews as a conspiracy perpetrated by General Fujita (Billy Chau), commander of the region's occupying Japanese forces, threatens them all. Chen Zhen eventually gets to the bottom of everything, but not only after a series of exciting kung fu brawls take place!
The Good: Unlike many martial arts movies that focus mainly on fight choreography and the smashing of wooden props over people's heads, Fist of Legend actually has a strong plot. Although it's no shining example of high drama, it's an entertaining and substantive story of love, friendship, honor, and justice that transcends political/ethnic boundaries.
And of course, there are many action sequences which are exhilarating and brilliantly choreographed. Furthermore, you do get to see plenty of wooden props smashed over people's heads as well.
Although it pays tribute to Bruce Lee's Fist of Fury, this updated version is much more even-handed in its portrayal of the Japanese. Instead of depicting all Japanese people as racist thugs, Fist of Legend goes out of its way to show heroes and villains on both sides.
At its core, this is a well-paced, focused movie that makes an effective argument about the importance of respecting the tradition of elders while adapting to the changes faced by the new generation.
The Bad: Depending on which country you see this movie in, the subtitles during several key scenes can vary and therefore bring about different (and perhaps confusing) interpretations of the film.
Also, the famous wire-work stunts of fight choreographer Yuen Woo-Ping are a little hokey in some parts.
Who would like this movie: Of course, I'd recommend this movie to you if you're a Jet Li fan or someone who loves kung fu flicks. Even if you're new to international movies, Fist of Legend is an above-average action film that also offers a satisfying story with just the right amount of humor.
Even though it takes place in a different time period and is in a different language, it contains enough universal themes to keep you interested.