I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Fist of Legend

tn_fistoflegendcountdownlogoYou know how people are always saying “Man, there really oughta be more kung fu movies set in the Shanghai International Settlement during the Second Sino-Japanese War”? Well in 1994 director Gordon Chan and star Jet Li heard your cries. They love a good Second Sino-Japanese War picture as much as anybody so they came up with FIST OF LEGEND, a remake of Bruce Lee’s FIST OF FURY.

mp_fistoflegendJet plays Chen Zhen, a completely fictional character based on the actual historical name of a student of the legendary martial artist Huo Yuanjia.

Chen Zhen starts out the movie in school at Kyoto University, learning about the internal combustible engine. If only he would’ve stayed in school I bet he would’ve started a car industry in China and things would’ve turned out very differently. Unfortunately some Japanese thugs come in and try to expel him for being Chinese. He beats the shit out of them but afterwards a conversation about where he learned to fight like that leads to him finding out that his master is dead and he has to leave Kyoto to go back to the Jingwu School and find out who’s responsible.

When he gets home the school is being run by the Master’s sons, and it has such a bad reputation now that the rickshaw driver tries to bring him to some other school. He was the best student, so everybody’s excited to see him, but it also causes some tension with the sons.

Like in the original the Japanese occupation forces keep fucking with them, sending guys from a karate school to challenge them to duels all the time, tying the hands of the police so nobody can properly investigate why the Master got sick and died. In fact, it’s stubborn Chen who actually exhumes the body, cuts out the liver and has an expert perform a graveside toxicity test.

Since he’s a Fist of Legend instead of a Fist of Fury Jet Li is a little more rational than Bruce was in his version. He does go to the karate school and fight everybody, but he doesn’t sneak out and do it without telling anyone. And either they changed it or translated it better because the sign he gets to break says that his school is closed, not that they are “sick men.” So you don’t have to think this guy is nuts for getting so upset about being called “sick men” on a sign.

He’s also more of a nerd. Bruce looked like a pop star in his white suit. Jet’s clothes and haircut remind me of Pee-wee Herman. He puts his fists up and I worry that his suit is too small and is gonna constrict his movements. And even though he can and does throw down with anybody (usually all at the same time) he has that education and uses this science shit that nobody else understands. He’s like Qui Gonn Jin with his midichlorians. That is a reference to the Star Wars prequels, not sure if you guys have checked those out yet but I think you will like them alot.

Although the Chinese are not sick men, they are sick of being treated like shit by the Japanese. But as soon as Chen hooks up with a Japanese girlfriend he starts getting it from the Chinese side too. In this world everybody decides things with duels, so he actually wins the right to stay at the school with a Japanese wife, but doesn’t want to continue causing a problem so he leaves anyway. That’s a cold move, winning what you want through a duel and then not taking it anyway.

It could be kind of cool to live in a culture where duels and challenges decide everything. I think I would probly challenge alot of other critics to criticism showdowns. My outlaw style is the best. Do you think your blurb style can defeat me? If I beat you you have to stop doing those bullet point reviews where you list “The Good” and “The Bad” and all that shit. If you win I have to start doing set visits.

So they go off to live together and everybody thinks they’re sinners for shacking up together, but neither the Chinese or the Japanese will let them get married, so what are they supposed to do? Fuck those guys.

There are a couple absolutely great Yuen-Woo Ping choreographed fights in this movie. Fights of Legend. Jet’s style is extremely fast, but I don’t think they sped him up. I thought I noticed a wire trick or two, but according to the DVD extras Gordon Chan wanted a realistic style and used no wires and no breakaway balsa wood furniture. So the fights are pretty intense and different from the magic flying kung fu movies everybody else was doing at the time (for example Jet was running around on people’s heads in FONG SAI YUK the year before). But I can’t play along, this is still not realism here. It’s cool partly because of all the farfetched parts: Li falling down into a one-handed pushup, defeating a kick by punching it with his fist of legend, the asshole General defeating his fist of legend by headbutting it. I mean, who headbutts a punch? That’s a move that can’t happen in life, only in a great movie.

Or, you know, that move where you punch at somebody but stop your fist right in front of their face and it causes a gush of air that blows their hair back so they know how legendary that fist would’ve been if it hit them. And then maybe you open the fist and just give ’em a little slap. I’m betting Jet didn’t use any moves like that when he was actually a competitive fighter.

I like how in kung fu movies everybody has some flour or something on their shirts that flies off when they get hit. Some people get knocked on the ground in this one, so maybe they’re just dirty from rolling around on the floor. That’s how I rationalized it.

There are many great badass moments. One of them is in the scene where he beats up the whole karate school. They’re all pulling themselves up off the floor, they look over and he’s crouched down tying his shoe! That’s gotta be one of the most badass shoe-tyings in all of cinema. Not only does it show a casual fearlessness (like Bruce eating chips while fighting a bunch of guys in THE BIG BOSS), it’s also a huge “fuck you” to put shoes on in their dojo. It’s like “Now that I’ve seen how you fight I really have no qualms about disrespecting you.” This scene is also some badass detective work because he samples their skills and styles to determine that his Master was poisoned since there’s no way these knuckleheads could’ve beat him fair and square.

But my favorite part of the movie is definitely when Chen Zhen and his wife are living out in the middle of nowhere and the Japanese sensei Funakochi Fumio (Yasuaki Kurata) walks in out of the fog like a samurai. He’s actually the wife’s uncle, but Chen Zhen knows he’s there for a challenge. Doesn’t even bring a bottle of wine or anything. This is one of the best types of fight scenes because it’s got great moves and choreography but it’s just as much about the characters, the themes and the emotions. Before the fight they taunt each other about dying. Chen says, “If you are the one who ends up dead I will bring your ashes back to Japan.” I think he means it more as a sign of respect than a threat. Even though this could be a fight to the death Chen seems really uncomfortable about fighting this old man. The look on his face when Fumio yells “WAIT!” and then feebly folds his robe and puts it down on the ground says everything. When he notices Fumio squinting like he can’t see well he feels bad and says, “Are you all right? I won’t take advantage of you.” They both put on blindfolds to make it fair. (This might be a pretty common courtesy though judging by how fast they both whip out the blindfolds.)

When not wearing the blindfold Li has a whole lot of emotions in his eyes. They have a conversation about fighting before and during the duel, and go from bitter contentiousness to admiration and excitement about seeing the martial arts in new ways. Shit, they almost become fight brothers. Fumio is impressed and influenced by Chen’s fighting, and we’re impressed that the Japanese aren’t all evil in this one. Chen thinks he’s lost the duel but Fumio is raving about him, saying excitedly “You’ve broadened my views!” I want to be friends with Fumio.

This is a real dude movie. Not only does it have that type of warrior bonding we love, but it has a woman who tells the hero to go off and kick ass and come back to be a husband later on. She says “There are things in life more important than love” and tells him to go off and “fulfill your promise.” It’s every man’s dream to 1. have kung fu so awesome it’s gonna save the country 2. have a girl that understands sometimes a man with kung fu that awesome needs some time and space to go beat that asshole Japanese general to death and 3. fake his death and go back to his girl wearing a cool hat.

This is such a great story and character that people are always trying to make other movies that tie into it. Li himself actually played the master, Huo Yuanjia, in Ronny Yu’s FEARLESS. Donnie Yen played Chen Zhen in a 30-episode TV show and now he’s doing a sequel called LEGEND OF THE FIST: THE RETURN OF CHEN ZHEN. If anybody wants another idea how to spin off of this I would like to point you in the direction of the scene where Chen Zhen’s wife is freaked out by a mouse, and he tells her the mouse lived there before they did. What I am proposing is an animated version told through the point of view of the mouse, much like THE GREAT MOUSE DETECTIVE.

It’s kind of ridiculous to remake a Bruce Lee movie, because how the fuck are you gonna compete with that? But by making the character different and the story more thoughtful they pulled it off. FIST OF FURY is an awesome movie, but its simplistic anti-Japanese propaganda takes it down a notch. FIST OF LEGEND manages to achieve a similar level of awesomeness without being as stupid. It’s rare that a remake of a famous movie like that is considered a classic in its own right.

But the reputation is deserved. This is a great fucking movie. It was hard going through life as a kung fu fan without having seen FIST OF LEGEND before, but I always knew it would be worth it so that my Countdown to the Expendables could have some classics in it and not just leftovers. I’m glad I held off. Some things are worth the wait.
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I’m not talking about abstinence until marriage by the way, FIST OF LEGEND is worth the wait is what I’m trying to say here.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Friday, August 13th, 2010 at 1:49 am and is filed under Action, Martial Arts, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

68 Responses to “Fist of Legend”

  1. Glad you liked it. It has some of the best choreographed fights I have ever seen. Also notice how each fight has a different style with a different emphasis.

    Jet Li’s stare alone wouldl make Tony Jaa hide behind his elephant.

  2. The best kungfu movie of all time, without question. (The second best is Tsui Hark’s THE BLADE if anybody interested. These two stand apart from the whole fucking genre.)
    Also, Vern, did you watch the Weinsteins’ mutilated English version with stupid music and surround sound and shit? Because if so, you own it to yourself to check out the original Chinese DVD and see this great movie the way Buddha intended.

  3. Excellent! I’ve been waiting for this review! (I second Roachboy’s question, though.)

    So, what will be the culmination of this Countdown? I’m going to guess…. mm…. “Stop or My Mom Will Shoot!”

    Anyone else with guesses?

  4. Also, as a suggestion for Vern’s next series: how about Occidental movies (I mean made in the West, but not necessarily ‘westerns’ by genre) which take a marginally important historical character and heavily fictionalize him into fantasy combat mode? Seems common enough in Chinese cinema (the Fong Sai Yuk series being another one of other such examples), but not nearly as common here. (Mel Gibson’s “The Patriot” would be one example; in that case, a fictional pastiche of a two or three historical characters. Maybe “Zorro” in various incarnations, as secretly nodded to in the Antonio Banderas upgrades.)

  5. Actually, the headbutting the punch thing kinda makes sense: a top of the head is the hardest part of human body and fists break easily. If nothing else, it’s more practical than the Crane Kick!
    Also FIST OF LEGEND has a great move where the opponent blokes your punch but then you open your fist and poke him with your fingers! You also can see it in THE MATRIX and about 10 others Yuen-Woo Ping movies.

  6. According to the “other” Gladiator movie (ie, not the Russell Crowe one but the one starring James Marshall, Cuba Gooding Jr and Brian Denehy), the forehead is the hardest part of the body, as can be seen in the climactic fight between Marshall and…um…Brian Denehy…

    Fist of Legend is one of the great new wave kung fu movies that any Martial Arts fan should have on his
    shelf, alongside Iron Monkey and Drunken Master 2…

  7. One Guy From Andromeda

    August 13th, 2010 at 5:25 am

    shit, vern, you always make this stuff sound so good. i am not really into kung fu movies, but i guess i’ll have to check this one out.

  8. The other interesting thing is that in Bruce Lee movie the suspicious Uncle Noh (the older guy with a pipe and a jade ring) would probably turn out to be a dirty traitor, and in Jet Lee version he’s actually a decent guy.

  9. Great review, Vern, I’m a huge fan of this movie.

    On a different note, now that the Countdown is dying down, you should do something similar with Original Gangstas. You know have a Countdown to Urban Expendables, with movies starring Fred Williamson, Jim Brown, Pam Grier, Richard Roundtree, and Ron O’Neal, all leading up to Original Gangstas. It would be a lot of fun.

    Also you defintely should Countdown to Machete. I’m personally going to SPELL out the movie with Seagal films: Marked for Death, A Dangerous Man, Clementine, Hard to Kill, Executive Decision, Today You Die, and Exit Wounds.

  10. I second Mikeoutwest – Fist of Legend and Iron Monkey are my favourite early 90’s Kungfu films.

    That sign from the school still says ‘Sick Men of East Asia’, so its mistranslated but better for it I guess.

    I’ve got my fingers crossed for an ‘Over the Top’ review for the Stallone movie…

  11. Great review Vern, I guess the wait was worth it for us too. If I didn’t have work tomorrow, I’d slip this in the DVD player now and watch it, but I need my sleep, and I guess i got my action fix tonight from that other Jet Li film which has just come out. But “Fist of Legend” does have some of my favourite fights from kung-fu cinema in it, especially the one you mentioned between Chen and the old karate master. So good. I wanted to wear a suit like Jet li wears in this after I saw it, I still do I guess. Even the blue one.

  12. Jareth Cutestory

    August 13th, 2010 at 7:03 am

    I always watch Jet Li movies twice: once for the fists, once for the face. He has some of the coolest facial expressions. Badass, sure, but also humility, compassion, wisdom. FIST OF LEGEND has some good pissed off looks too. When he’s too old to fight, he’ll still be a good charactor actor: FACE OF LEGEND.

  13. Somewhere in the mid ’90s, before RUMBLE IN THE BRONX, back when talking about Chow Yun Fat would draw nothing but a blank stare, when John Woo was the director of many a bootleg VHS passed from sweaty hand to sweaty hand, some Chinese friends of mine told me that if I liked Jackie Chan and Donnie Yen (IRON MONKEY was one of my recent viewings) I really aught to watch THE BODYGUARD FROM BEJING or TAI-CHI MASTER.

    “Who’s in those?”

    “Jet Li.”

    “Jet who?”

    The very next bootleg – from far-away Vietnam – was THE FIST OF LEGEND. Yeah. It knocked me on my ass . . .

  14. A great movie…

    and also, anyone who knows anything about the art of reviewing knows that Outlaw Style is the strongest style.

  15. What will Vern review for Sly?

    THE SPECIALIST?
    DAYLIGHT?
    COP LAND?
    ROCKY IV?
    OSCAR?

  16. I’d go with either Cop Land (a very good movie) or Rocky IV (a very, very, very good movie).

  17. Personally, I think the jaw dislocation in this movie is the highlight of Jet’s career. I’m pretty sure this was the first of his classic Hong Kong work that I saw, and 15 years and 30 films later it remains the best.

    Speaking of great Jet facial expressions, I think his villainous role in LETHAL WEAPON 4 is underrated. I think he brought a lot of calm and cool but gleeful menace to that part without a lot of dialogue. The use of his schoolboy smile for evil was a bold but genius move on Richard Donner’s part. That scene where Jet casually wipes the red dot from Mel’s fancy new nine off his shirt is a classic.

  18. Jareth Cutestory

    August 13th, 2010 at 8:34 am

    Li has this uncanny ability to express on his face the emotional or ethical consequences of the violence he is inflicting on others at the exact moment he’s whooping their ass. It’s a neat little bit of drama that pops up in many of his films.

    I also like the expressions Vern indicated in his review: the respect on his face when fighting a admirable opponent, and the disdain for those he holds in contempt.

  19. Well, I saw this one after everyone here told me that it was the definative Jet Li film, and damned if you weren’t absolutely right. After seeing it, I feel like I finally GET Jet Li. This film helped me figure out what he’s all about.

    Before FIST OF LEGEND, I hadn’t really seen any Li films that I felt really took advantage of his obvious charisma, but now I can kinda get why. He has a different kind of vibe than most action heros — hell, to look at his face throughout LEGEND and he looks like he’s about to cry most of the time. He’s sensetive, controlled, introverted – the opposite of the swagger you expect from most action stars. And yet, there’s a powerful confidence there, too. Moments like putting on his shoes in the dojo or switching styles in his duel with the master’s son express his supreme confidence that he can do what needs to be done without necessarily needing to brag about it or have it define his identity. He’s a sweet, quiet guy who just happens to be the only one with the skills to fuck shit up the way it needs to be fucked up. He’s quietly confident, no need for macho strutting. He would rather not have to kick your ass, in fact you get the sense that it would be just fine with him if he never had to oblige anyone with a beatdown ever again. But he knows he may have to, and he knows he can do it. It’s all in his face throughout LEGEND.

    Still, I have to say that its a difficult kind of persona to hang a movie on. Putting a sensetive introvert at the center of a movie makes it very hard to find that empowering charisma which in central to a classic action film. I’m in complete agreement with Mr M that LETHAL WEAPON 4 remains on of his most effective films. His reserved, compassionate expressions in that make him all the more nuanced and menacing (and his evil Jet character in THE ONE also suggests this might be an easier way to make better use of him, even in an undeniably awful film). I’m actually sort of excited to see how he does in EXPENDABLES as a supporting character, since I’m betting his quiet competence may work a little better in contrast to the macho swagger of the other leads. Otherwise, I’m not sure he’s found a lot of roles which work as well to capitalize on his natural talents as LEGEND does. Actually UNLEASHED (aka the better-titled DANNY THE DOG for you Brits) is a rare script which seems to work with his natural shyness rather than against it (sadly the film itself doesn’t quite work the way it ought to. But good try, he ought to consider working with more like that rather than going for these larger-than-life iconic action roles).

    The views and opinions expressed herein are those of Mr. Subtlety and do not necessarily reflect the views of anyone who knows what they are talking about. Mr. Subtlety is not an expert in this field and his views should not be taken as a substitute for actual career advice.

  20. I’m hoping the Stallone pick is Lock Up. I would LOVE to hear what you have to say about that one. Not a great, or even very good, movie, but it doesn’t skimp on the macho. Costars Tom Sizemore and Sonny Landham, and -most importantly- was directed by Mr. Out For (Fucking) Justice himself, John Flynn.

    In all truth, it’s about the silliest prison flick ever, but a review from you Vern would more than justify it’s existence.

    Keep up the great work, Amigo!

  21. LOCK UP is silly, but I must admit its emotionally manipulatively enjoyable.

  22. LOCK UP is a good one (I just realized it’s been nearly 20 years since I’ve seen it. Gonna need to rectify that soon) but my heart belongs to DEMOLITION MAN.

  23. “He’s a sweet, quiet guy who just happens to be the only one with the skills to fuck shit up the way it needs to be fucked up.”

    That is a nice phrase that describes what I was trying to communicate when I described him as a “genteel badass” in an earlier thread.

    I would, however, suggest that Li’s screen persona doesn’t necessarily sit at the introverted end of the spectrum. In fact, I think there is a world of difference between reluctance and restraint. This restraint, in Li’s case, is almost always ethical, not necesarily a character trait, except in DANNY THE DOG, where it is the result of trauma.

    And there are other character nuances that Li does well to compliment the integrity he likes to communicate: the cockiness in MY FATHER IS A HERO suited him well, for example. And he looked cool smoking in that one.

  24. Also, Vern might surprise us all and review Stallone’s DAYLIGHT. Such a review would also further his Viggo scholarship.

  25. I did watching a fucking Weinstein version, the Dragon Dynasty one. But subtitled (I forget if I chose Cantonese or Mandarin language – whichever came first on the menu). I did notice some keyboards on the score at times but it sounded 1994 appropriate. Did I watch a bad version?

  26. I’m pretty sure the Dragon Dynasty version is the Weinsteins’ way of apologizing for the Dimension version, so I think you’re good.

  27. Vern: The Dimension Films version is the real crappy one. They brutally chop the ending in that version, so much so that the meaning is changed, and the dubbing is awful. No original language option either. Fuckin’ Weinsteins.

    The Dragon Dynasty version is much better, though my Cantonese-speaking pals tell me that the subtitles are way off. Much better picture quality.

    As far as I know, these are the only legitimate versions available in North America.

  28. Jareth — ain’t seen MY FATHER IS A HERO yet, I’m told that’s another great one for him. Also I hear BLACK MASK is pretty great. It’s possible I just haven’t seen him in any films where he’s a little more macho. Suggestions?

  29. RRA, if he doesn’t go for OSCAR, then I hope it’s not STOP! OR MY MOM WILL SHOOT.

    Although we all need a little Estelle Getty in our lives. I just prefer it in Golden Girls or Mannequin form.

  30. A GOOD movie starring Jet Li?

    Is it possible?

    The only ones I’ve found even remotely likeable were “Kiss of the Dragon”, “Romeo Must Die”, “Unleashed”, “The Enforcer” and “Lethal Weapon 4”. (Actually, now I come to think of it, that’s quite a few movies.) “Hero” I intensely disliked, for reasons already mentioned. I haven’t seen “The Mummy 3” but given that I thought the first one was pointless and the second one almost had me walking out of the cinema (a feat that only “Bad Boys 2” has actually accomplished), I somehow don’t fancy the third one’s chances. “Black Mask” and “The One” prove that martial arts movies can be as painfully tedious to watch as any other genre, if done badly.

    The only Jet Li movies that I’ve thought were really worth watching were “Kiss of the Dragon”, and “Unleashed”. And even “Unleashed” had its problems (chief among them Morgan Freeman). “The Enforcer” was done pretty well, but the villain was an ass and it took itself far more seriously than anything about it deserved. “Romeo Must Die” was fun, but in the same way that “Street Fighter: The Movie” was fun. “Kiss of the Dragon” – I actually thought this one was very good, probably the best movie I’ve seen him in. “Lethal Weapon 4” – much better than its predecessor, at least.

    I don’t think my problem is Li himself, but more the projects that he’s in. I’ve just named nine movies in total, of which I’d recommend a total of two (and both of those with serious reservations. I know a LOT of people can’t stand “Kiss of the Dragon” or “Unleashed”.) If you asked me for recommendations for JCVD or Seagal I could easily name you four apiece. A few more for Stallone. Many, many more for Arnie. And ok, these guys have had longer careers than Jet Li… but still… there’s a massive difference in terms of the average quality of the projects that they’re doing compared to what he’s doing.

    And the thing is, I think Li is a very good actor when he’s given the right material. There are scenes in “Unleashed” – as cheesy as it often is – where Li completely overcomes the limitations of the script he’s reading from, and hits notes that I didn’t know he was capable of. Thing is though… what the fuck did he ever have to do in “Hero”? Or “The One”? Heck, he was the “main” character in “Hero” and both the protagonist and villain in “The One”, and I can barely remember a thing about him from either movie.

    In any case, Vern, you’ve convinced me here. I’ll rent this one out just as soon as I get through my thirteen quid worth of secondhand Seagal DVDs and horror classics and other stuff that I’ve been looking forward to watching but haven’t yet. (Could take a while then.)

  31. Jareth Cutestory

    August 13th, 2010 at 1:04 pm

    Mr. Subtelty: I’m not sure “macho” is a word that anyone would apply to any of Li’s roles, nor is it something I think he ever aspired to. It’s probably safe to say that his roles are variations on the same character that you defined so well earlier.

    Li successfully introduces some light McLaneisms into his character in MY FATHER IS A HERO (aka ENFORCER).
    It’s a bit of a kick to see him roughing up dudes with something resembling abandon. Of course, for the sake of his son, he
    cleans up his act and quits smoking. But none of this is central to the movie. They’re just neat embellishments.

    He plays a cold-hearted military badass in WARLORDS really well, but the film would be found on Majestyk’s “period” shelf, not the “classic action” shelf.

    On the goofy end of things, he plays a bumpkin well in THE MASTER, though not as well as Tony Jaa. Li’s rapport with a Latino gang in this film is amusing.

    BLACK MASK doesn’t feature the most coherent action, and, for a movie about damaged special ops supersoldiers, Li is fairly unconvincing. Any fondness for Dolph’s take on enhanced soldiers might make this film seem
    timid and silly. But then Dolph didn’t have to wear a Kato mask. Also, for a Yuen Wo Ping joint, the wire work seems minimized. But it’s entertaining.

    I’ve found that Li’s weak films are never as bad as Jackie Chan’s weak films. Some would say that Li’s best films aren’t as good as Chan’s best; I see their point, but I beg to differ, if only because I find Chan a bit too goofy.

  32. Jareth Cutestory

    August 13th, 2010 at 1:13 pm

    Paul: Have you seen the ONCE UPON A TME IN CHINA films? I don’t know if you’d like them, but they have some great action sequences, better, in my opinion, than Jackie Chan at his best.

    Also, the list of Li films that you made would sort of be like trying to formulate an opinion of Bruce Willis based on THE COLOR OF NIGHT, DEATH BECOMES HER, LUCKY NUMBER SLEVIN and RETURN OF BRUNO.

  33. Paul: You seem to have a habit of forming an opinion about an actor or director based on their worst films. I know you’re not doing it on purpose, but it’s kind of like saying the Beatles suck because “Let It Be” was overproduced.

    To see the best of Jet Li, you have to see his Hong Kong work (and contrary to popular belief, he’s actually had a longer career than both Van Damme and Seagal). I’m not a huge fan of wirework or period pieces, but the ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA series is a landmark for a reason–the fights are simply phenomenal. For something a little closer to our own era, try the WWII film BORN TO DEFENSE, Jet’s only movie as director. The fighting style is a little more brutal than usual, and it has some more of that Japan-bashing we love so much around here. If you want modern-day gun-fu action, there’s MY FATHER IS A HERO, which gets bigged up a lot around here for the simple reason that it’s awesome. The fights are crazy, the story is nuts, and a little kid gets the shit kicked out of him all the time en route to a surprisingly emotional reunion with his dad that doubles as a jaw-dropping action climax. In that vein, I’ve always had a soft spot for HIGH RISK, a more light-hearted DIE Hard-esque flick that has about a million stuntmen getting machine-gunned in creative ways. All of these movies are far better showcases for Jet’s lightning-fast skills than his American work (although his Luc Besson movies are pretty good).

  34. Jareth: GET OUT OF MY HEAD, YOU SCANNER BASTARD.

  35. Majestyk and Jareth – yeah, I can accept that. I’m cool.

    Reminder that I thought “The Enforcer” was pretty well-made but ultimately rather pointless, and I could barely get through “Black Mask”. But I’ll look out for some of the earlier stuff. I wouldn’t want to judge Jackie Chan on only the “Rush Hour” films. This seems similar.

  36. Jareth Cutestory

    August 13th, 2010 at 1:34 pm

    It’s not your head I want access to, Majestyk, it’s your awesomely-organized
    Jet Li collection!

    But seriously, Paul, if you think you can handle period wire fu, Li’s ONCE UPON A TME IN CHINA trilogy is awesome. I’ve heard convincing arguements that it is the best trilogy ever. Certainly I think the quality of the films in no way drops off as the films progress.

  37. I don’t know. I think OUATIC 2 was probably the peak. That had tons of great action without the gwai lo stuff the first one had. Plus it’s got Jet Li v. Donnie Yen Pt. 1!

    I agree with some people on here about the wire-fu, wuxia stuff, though. The first 3 OUATICs were good, but the two Fong Sai Yuk movies are WAY over the top about it. It’s pretty hit-or-miss. Tai Chi Master was very entertaining but Last Hero in China is just ridiculous, even though it has Jet Li v. Gordon Liu.

    I much prefer his more down-to-earth films, like Fist of Legend and My Father is Hero(proper Engrish title there). High Risk is Wong Jing, so expect silly sped up action, and Hitman literally has only one proper fight towards the end. Bodyguard from Bejing has Jet v. Colin Chou(Matrix Sequels, Flash Point), but that’s about it. Black Mask has some good fights but I generally despise Daniel Lee movies. He’s way too harsh and dark, not in a good way.

    I don’t actually hate his American movies. Think about it, Kiss of the Dragon and Unleashed are pretty damn good films, Romeo Must Die had at least a couple good fights(Hose-Fu and Jet v. Russell Wong), The One had a fabulously silly final fight, and he literally reinvented himself with Lethal Weapon 4. It’s a lot better than Jackie’s, with terrible ones like Medallion, Tuxedo, and The Spy Next Door(*shudder*).

    One more thing, check out The Warlords. Jet is absolutely awesome in this.

  38. What’s the consensus on THE HIDDEN KINGDOM? I thought it was very enjoyable for an american family kung fu movie, and Jet get’s to play multiple roles and he and Jackie Chan have great chemistry together despite it only being their first film together.

  39. BODYGUARD FROM BEIJING has one other thing going for it: Christy Chung. True, she’s often annoying, but look at her: http://www.chinesegirls8.info/images/Christy-Chung/christy-chung-2.jpg

  40. Stu – yeah it was ok, if maybe to many people not the Jet Li/Chan team-up they had been dreaming for most of their testosterone fantasies.

    Certainly that story took alot of chunk to excuse that one fight between the two, but hey the way I see it guys better to have that fight, than to NEVER get one between the two.

  41. Jareth Cutestory

    August 13th, 2010 at 1:53 pm

    Also, for purposes of full disclosure, it should be noted that in CRADLE 2 GRAVE Jet Li fights a midget. Not his finest moment.

  42. In the FONG SAI YUK movies, he needs his mom to fight a lot of his battles for him too!

  43. I just want to clarify something. The upcoming Chen Zhen film with Donnie Yen isn’t technically a sequel to anything. It’s actually a SUPERHERO movie. Well I guess it’s kind of a sequel to Fist of Fury because they talk about how everybody thinks he was killed. But in reality he was in hiding. Now he wears a mask and fights crime.

    Also, I would recommend Black Mask and High Risk for Jet Li movies that are enjoyable.

  44. It pleases me that Vern enjoyed Fist of Legend, the recommendation for which I take full credit. Since I enjoyed Best of the Best 2, I guess we’re even. But, actually, post office notice tells me I just received Seagalogy from Amazon, so now maybe he owes me. I’m no big city fancy online businessman, though; I’ve got no wares to push. Well, hopefully I’ll enjoy the thing, otherwise I’ll be sure to post my account & routing #s someday so we can do a transfer of funds and make this right.

    You guys have good, intelligent things to say about the Jet Li’s oeuvre, and this pleases me as well. My big thing is, I’ll give every kung fu/fighting flick a chance once, and, even if it sucks as a film or story, I’ll at least mentally bookmark the good fights & violence so I can fast forward to those parts (Black Mask is an excellent film if you distill it to, like, <25 minutes of violence, in my opinion.) at various points in my life. Then I discovered this thing called Youtube, a.k.a. "the youtube," and it turns out a lot of people like the same things I like, as indicated by a search for "Jet Li fight" and such.

    Fist of Legend is that rare fighting movie exception that is great to watch 100% through, dialogue and all.

    Again, Brakus would review First Blood 2. So much badassery. . .

  45. FIRST BLOOD 2 was lame. Sorry guys but it was.

    And somehow, RAMBO 3 was even worse.

  46. Another Yuen-Woo-Ping gem is ‘In the Line of Duty IV’ starring Donnie Yen. It’s not as polished as ‘Iron Monkey’ or ‘Fist of Legend’ but it’s absolutely packed with totally insane fight-scenes, no wirework, just brutal smackdowns from start to finish. Including one on top of a speeding ambulance which looks extremely dangerous. Really for any Kung-Fu fans out there who haven’t seen it it’s worth tracking down. I think it may be one of the very few action films directed and choreographed by Woo-Ping which is set in modern times.

  47. Majestyk – I thought “Crouching Tiger” was fantastic, and that practically DEFINES period wire-fu. So yeah, I’ll put ’em on my “to-see” list. Along with the six-hundred or so things already on it… I gotta say, this site is great for recommendations.

    GVDobson – I’d agree with you about the American films. Although I think “The One”‘s final fight didn’t save it from the ninety minutes of utter screeching boredom that preceded it. I can’t recall another film where I’ve seen two men attack each other with hospital equipment and felt so blase about the whole business. Definitely liked “Kiss of the Dragon” and “Unleashed” though.

  48. RRA – I couldn’t get through either of the Rambo sequels. Baaaaaaad films. Which was a shame, because I thought the original was great.

    Mouth – you only just got Seagalogy? Damn, I got it from Waterstone’s the first month it came out. Of course, I didn’t have a DVD cabinet that was full to the brim of Seagal’s films then. I do now. Incidentally, I’ve been delaying watching “Kill Switch”. Not from lack of enthusiasm, you understand, but because I regard Seagal’s films much as a particularly fine brand of whiskey. In moderation it’s delicious, but if you try and consume too much at once, you just end up feeling rather sick. I’ve set myself the task of watching the lot. I don’t want to rush and spoil the whole thing, especially after the treat that was a weird not-really-Seagal vs not-really-vampires movie that was a little better than Vern said it would be.

    (Of course, the not-really-vampires movie came out AFTER Seagalogy. But it still counts.)

  49. Well, if I’m the only pro-First Blood 2 action cinema aficionado, so be it. To invert Groucho Marx, I wouldn’t want to belong to a club who would accept anyone other than myself as a member, anyway. Nothing you haters say can take away from the pure joy of seeing Rambo’s ultimate camouflage, his immersion and violent exit from a mud wall. Also, explosive arrow heads. Also, the primary theme of First Blood 2 is the same as that of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

    I’ll just leave that there and see if you all can figure it out. It’s not that difficult to see, really.

    How’s that for badass juxtaposition, a great manly action film that people don’t like for some reason and one of the great works of art of all time, sharing equal space on some level.

    Also, as students of The Expendables, we should note that First Blood 2 is the birthplace of the Sly’s onscreen awareness of the term “expendable.”

  50. Oh yeah, Paul, what’s up. Your whiskey comparison is quite apt. Bravo.

    Forgive my tardiness to the Seagalogy readership movement. I’m sure the book will prove timeless, so it won’t really matter when I got it. Generations will revere it as the pinnacle of film scholarship. Pauline who?

  51. Hehe. I now have a new favorite “other” forum member. *Bows to Mouth’s perverse genius.* I’m almost tempted to try watching “First Blood Part 2” (AKA “Second Blood part 1?”) to spot the awesome bits I apparently missed the first time around. Almost.

  52. My genius is the only normal genius. Everyone else’s genius is a perversion.

    Fun random fact I’m just now learning from the customs officials checking my baggage’s contents as I attempt to leave Osamaland: You aren’t allowed to fly back to the US if you have blood on your boots.

    The Magic Johnson Rule has run amok.

  53. @Roachboy- I used to have The Blade on VCD, but I can’t for the life of me find it anymore. I don’t remember if I liked it to be honest, but Xin Xin Xiong will always have my ire because my first proper introduction to him was “The Musketeer.” On the other hand, Clubfoot from the OUATIC series is pretty awesome and I liked Xin Xin Xiong’s recent “Coweb” about a female bodyguard who kicks a lot of ass. It’s not super great but I like that one of the fights is filmed with a focus on their reflections fighting rather than them fighting. Most people might think that’s a bad idea but I thought it was a neat camera trick.

    Also, I gotta second the dislike of “Rambo: First Blood Part 2” and since that leads into the subject of James Cameron (he was one of the screenwriter of RFBP2) I feel the need to say that from the moment the machine gun tumbles down the stairs comically killing terrorists “True Lies” becomes absolute unwatchable dogshit.

  54. If we’re doing a full HK suggestion list here then I’ll add these guys:

    Donnie Yen in SPL(jaw-dropping fights and a good story), Dragon Tiger Gate(terrible hair, but great RIDICULOUS fights), Tiger Cage 2(almost a Jackie Chan movie for the most part, but it’s got two great fights back to back, along with Donnie v. Robin Shou), In the Line of Duty IV(I second you Amazing_Larry), Flash Point(alright movie with two show-stopping fights at the end, the final one against Colin Chou), Ip Man(Donnie’s punches in this makes Jeff Speakman look slow), and Ip Man 2(a more silly sequel, with some over-the-top gwai lo nonsense).

    Wu Jing in SPL(debut, starmaker in the movie), Fatal Contact(great little Lionheart-style flick, with a twist of an ending), Invisible Target(a pit pretensious but Benny Chan helms it and he did the fantastic New Police Story), and Legendary Assassin(worst of the bunch but still pretty memorable).

    And of course Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao, the list goes on and on.

  55. I’m glad you enjoyed this, Vern! This is hands down my favorite Jet Li movie.

    And Paul, steer clear of Kill Switch. It is terrible. I should know, I cut a trailer for it.

  56. I first watched this when I discovered Jet Li after running out of Jackie Chan movies to watch. I was disappointed in it because I’d liked the fantastical wirework style, so just seeing regular old kung fu fights seemed boring. Maybe today, in light of shaky Bourne style fights, I’ll appreciate the regular old filmatism of guys going at it. I agree with the point of “realism” though. It’s not. They said the same thing about Kiss of the Dragon and then still clearly used wirework. Just do good fight scenes. You don’t have to qualify them.

  57. RJ Macready – I know Kill Switch is probably terrible (“Submerged” was, although I actually thought “Against the Dark” wasn’t quite as bad as everyone made it out to be.) But that’s kinda the point – see the “Against the Dark” thread.

  58. No Kill Switch is unwatchable. The action is BY FAR the worst shaky-cam in history. You literally haven’t a clue what in God’s name is happening. The story is unbelievably uneven, with characters popping up then disappearing. Don’t even get me started on the Inviso Wife in the end of the film.

  59. Oh man, it took me five separate tries to slog through AGAINST THE DARK, and by the end I was just picking up where I left off and still unable to make it to the credits. It was only my firm commitment to Seagalogy that got me through it, and even then strong drink was required. It’s not as shoddily made as some of Seagal’s DTV stuff (including but not limited to TODAY YOU DIE OUT, FOR A KILL, SUBMERGED, ATTACK FORCE, FLIGHT OF FURY, KILL SWITCH) but to my mind it also has far less personality and hence is easily his least interesting film. It feels like a shitty Sy-Fy channel reject which no one cared enough about to even make it weird. Totally paint-by-numbers with all the usual lame cliches, augmented with the usual awkward DTV filmmatism. Ugh. KILL SWITCH is a wretched, terrible film, but at least its unique.

  60. And now I’m REALLY looking forward to “Kill Switch”. :-)

    I agree that “Against the Dark” could’ve used less pseudo-realism filter effects and more heaving bosoms. (Ah, the heaving bosoms. Why don’t we see more of them in films nowadays?)

  61. You know, Kill Switch entertained me precisely because it was so obvious they were cutting to a different guy and then back to Seagal’s face and dubbing one-liners over the nonsense. But the recent Driven to Kill and Dangerous Man show he’s still got it, so there was no need to settle for Kill Switch.

    How about this: What are the good Jet Li movies? I mean, he’s great but he’s probably done more bad ones than Jackie Chan. I’d say my favs are Tai Chi Master, Once Upon a Time in China 1, 3 and maybe 2, Unleashed for an American one, and Fearless is fine. Fong Sai Yuk bores me except for the head scene, Father/Hero has way too much plot and not enough action, Bodyguard has a fun ending and Deadly China Hero is decent cheese. Hero is a little too artsy for me, though does it make anyone else laugh that he did Hero and Fearless, and in 1992 there were two separate airplane crash movies named Hero (Dustin Hoffman) and Fearless (Jeff Bridges)?

  62. Great Review as always, Vern! I’ll also add that at the time he made this, his career was actually floundering after quite a few box office bombs. This movie was something of a comeback for him, and he started picking better films to star in after that…

  63. That and he really got tired of the bald cap.

  64. Jareth Cutestory

    August 14th, 2010 at 9:58 pm

    FTopel: I’m going to strenuously object that Jet Li’s weakest films are worse than Chan’s, even if we confine our discussion to non-english films. Have you see Chan’s THE PRISONER? It’s awful. Li has some weak films, but Li himself is never the worst part of the film. Chan can be unbearably goofy.

    Also, I think you’re being hard on MY FATHER IS HERO. I mean, he uses his kid as a human yo-yo ass-kicking machine. There’s a special place in badass heaven for shit like that.

  65. Been many years since I’ve seen My Father Is A Hero so I’m happy to give that another chance. As a Chan fan, I will admit to the horrible ones: The Medallion, The Tuxedo, Gorgeous (sad because he was really trying there), Dragon Lord, The Protector. I’m not even really counting the Lucky Stars cameos, or The Prisoner because it’s not really his movie, but I didn’t mind it because I knew what I was getting into. Actually I found it harder than I thought to think of bad Jackie Chan movies so that’s a good thing. I actually find Supercop boring by comparison to the other fight-filled Police Stories.

    I’m not knocking Li himself at all, and I didn’t even mention Born to Defense because I know he learned his lesson from that. :) I guess to me a straight kung fu movie that doesn’t work is just boring. A bad action-comedy at least still has some potential ideas in it.

    I think I’d like Fist of Legend as an adult and I’ll rediscover every one when Dragon Dynasty re-releases them.

  66. Ftopel, Fist of Legend is on DVD now through Dragon Dynasty, as is Jet Li’s The Tai Chi Master. The only thing better than the film on that disc is a behind the scenes at Yausaki Kurata’s stunt school. Very cool extra, and you can see how the stuntmen in Japan train daily from the greats of martial arts cinema himself.

  67. This is a fabulous blogging site loaded with a good deal of advise. The following page is my favorite.

  68. Jareth Cutestory

    May 28th, 2011 at 11:39 pm

    I fear not the spambot that has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the spambot that has practiced one kick 10,000 times.

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