Tuesday, September 21, 2010

TIFF10 Review: Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen

Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen

How do you find a fresh way to tell a story when the character has been immortalized by the legendary Bruce Lee? This is the question that director Andrew Lau and action star Donnie Yen had to face when bringing Chen Zhen, who you may remember from Bruce Lee’s Fist of Fury, back to the big screen. Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen aims to not only honour Bruce Lee’s work but to create a brand new version of Chen Zhen for this generation.

After the classic battle at the Hongkou Dojo in Fist of Fury, Chen Zhen is not seen for several years and is presumed dead. Yet Chen Zhen is far from deceased, as he is one of the Japanese soldiers fighting alongside the British in the First World War. After the war Zhen returns to Shanghai just as the Japanese are slowly taking over China. As the Japanese start to assassinate prominent Chinese figures, Chen Zhen is forced into action. Disguised as the Masked Warrior, he races to save all the people who have been publicly placed on the “death list”. With political unrest sweeping the country, Zhen and a few rebel activists find themselves in a David and Goliath battle against the Japanese army.

About a halfway through Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen it becomes apparent that Andrew Lau’s biggest misstep is not utilizing Donnie Yen to his full potential. Yen is one of the best martial artist working in cinema today. He not only has physical ability, but he is also extremely charismatic. This is why it is perplexing that the action sequences in Legend of the Fist are so few and far between. While the historical aspects of the film are interesting, Andrew Lau tends to get caught up in the melodrama a little too often. At the end of the day, the audience is going into Legend of the Fist for the action.


The opening scene alone, where Yen’s Chen Zhen single-handedly saves his platoon in the war, is a sight to behold. Yen’s choreography is wonderfully fresh and energetic. It is just a shame that the audience must wait so long in between action sequences. The wait helps to enhance some of the glaring problems with the story. One of the big issues is that the film can never decide on a single tone. At times the film plays like a James Bond film, other times it goes the historical epic route, while also occasionally dipping into the superhero genre.

Donnie Yen deserves a lot of credit for keeping Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen entertaining despite its many flaws. His performance not only gives a loving nod to Bruce Lee, but he also provides his own unique take to the character of Chen Zhen. It is Yen’s action scenes that make Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen worth a look. It is a shame that the action scenes were not on display more.


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