The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Monday, September 25, 2006

Jet Li’s Fearless (2006)

The umpteenth telling of the guru of the Jin Wu sports federation, Huo Yuanjia, is also, reportedly, martial arts master Jet Li’s final Wu Shu (traditional Chinese Martial Arts) film.  If so, he goes out on a very high note indeed. This story (which is the back story for Bruce Lee’s “Chinese Connection”) deals with the period when China was colonized by the British, Russian, and Japanese, who referred to China derisibly as the “Sick Man of Asia.”  Huo Yuanjia is pulled into a series of contests between the greatest fighters of the colonizing powers.  As he is considered a hero by millions of Chinese, you can probably imagine the outcome.

Despite its predictability, the movie flat rocks.  Jet Li intended it to be his statement of the meaning of Wu Shu, and what it has given him over the course of his life.  What he has given us is a document for the ages.  Jet Li is one of those few human beings whose motion exists at the edge of perfection.  There simply isn’t another level above Jet, although there are others—Baryshnikov, Astaire, Chaplin, Bruce Lee, and a few others—who have left cinematic testimonials of similar kinetic excellence.

The man has one of the most “physically intelligent” bodies I’ve ever seen in my life, and the story is poignant and honest enough to create a thematic backbone.  I cared.  And because I cared about this tale of an arrogant man who finds enlightenment, the martial aspects simply soared. 

Simply put, traditional martial arts films just don’t get much better than this.  The acting is only “O.K.” but the choreography and execution are extraordinary.  For martial arts fans: A+.  For moviegoers in general, a “B.”

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