Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen

Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen (精武風雲-陳真)
Made in: Hong Kong
Language: Cantonese (or Mandarin, depending on which version you see), Japanese, English
Director: Andrew Lau
Starring: Donnie Yen, Anthony Wong Chau-Sang, Shu Qi, Ryu Kohata
Year: 2010

Synopsis: This movie is a continuation of a 1995 TV series called Fist of Fury, where Donnie Yen starred as martial arts expert Chen Zhen. The movie can also be seen as a sequel to the 1972 Bruce Lee flick, also titled Fist of Fury (and also known as The Chinese Connection).

Taking place seven years after the end of the TV series, where he was thought to have been shot and killed by Japanese occupiers, Chen Zhen goes to Europe during World War I.

He joins a group of Chinese laborers who have sided with the Allies against the Germans. Shortly after a battle in which he single-handedly takes out half the German Army, Chen Zhen returns to China.

In Shanghai, he assumes the identity of Qi Tianyuan, a friend of his who was killed in Europe. Chen also becomes a high-ranking member of an underground resistance movement whose goal is to undermine Japanese occupation efforts.

He then befriends Liu Yutian (Anthony Wong Chau-Sang), a businessman and owner of a swanky nightclub. Before long, Liu hires Chen as the club's manager.

Trouble soon begins brewing after the leaders of two Chinese military factions meet. The Japanese-backed General Zeng and Nationalist General Zhou try to work out a peace agreement that would promote Chinese unity.

But Colonel Chikaraishi (Ryu Kohata), who's in command of the occupying forces in Shanghai, attempts to assassinate Zeng to spark civil unrest and to lay the ground for Japanese domination. Then he will throw his head back and let out an evil laugh while presumably stroking a cat.

Getting wind of all this, Chen Zhen dons a disguise (that resembles Kato from the Green Hornet), and becomes a vigilante known as The Masked Warrior!

His efforts to thwart fiendish Japanese plots of murder and intimidation makes him a hero among the Chinese, who are showing greater signs of resistance.

However, Chen's attraction to Kiki (Shu Qi), a cabaret singer at Liu's club, proves dangerous when he learns that she's secretly collaborating with the Japanese occupiers.

Being a martial arts movie, this whole mess eventually accumulates to a final showdown between Chen Zhen and Chikaraishi.

The Good: Fast paced and well filmed, Legend of the Fist is full of well-choreographed fight sequences. Donnie Yen also worked as the film's martial arts choreographer, and the action set pieces are certainly exciting.

The opening action sequence stretches the realm of plausibility, but is a hell of a lot of fun to watch and very creative. And it's nice to see Yen use some of his real-life piano skills as well.

The Bad: Director Andrew Lau dispenses with story and plot development a little too much, opting more to focus on ass-kicking and explosions instead. Legend of the Fist may be a historical piece, but emotionally there's really not much depth and nothing beyond shock value.

The stock characters are all there: evil Japanese warlords, helpless and corrupt lawmen, and racist white people with bad British accents.

And of course, there are a multitude of the hero's expendable friends whose only role is to conveniently get murdered so Donnie Yen will have an excuse to go on a rampage in the next scene.

legend of the fist
"And I was just two days from retirement..."

The romance between Shu Qi and Yen isn't convincing at all, and there's no real chemistry between them. It's not quite as bad as Anakin and Padme, but pretty close.

And finally, the patriotism is a little overblown. The Chinese nationalism in and of itself isn't what bothers me. But in Legend of the Fist, the sense of rousing nationalism is always brought in the midst of denouncing other countries. And I find it painfully ironic to see scenes of characters marching and rallying for a "Free China," while knowing in modern times, that such a demonstration would be illegal in today's China (but acceptable in Japan).

chinese propaganda

Who would like this movie: Legend of the Fist is for you if you're a fan of martial arts movies and Donnie Yen. However, it's pretty disorganized and feels a bit incomplete.

Definitely don't watch it for deep political insights or historical accuracy- just enjoy if for the fun action sequences and pure entertainment value. But if you're already a seasoned fan of kung fu movies, there's nothing in this film that you haven't already seen elsewhere.

(2 stars out of 4)

Review written by: Joe Yang

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