Jet Li’s Fearless
by Del Harvey
Martial Arts & Crafts 101
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I’ve come to like quite a lott of the work of this Chinese martial artist. He first came to the attention of American audiences in Lethal Weapon 4, and since then he’s done a number of high-octane action pix including Hero, The One, Unleashed, and Kiss of the Dragon. I wish I could put Fearless among that group of films; unfortunately, it is too much of a disappointment.
When I saw the trailer, I was intrigued by the premise of a great martial artist master developing into a symbol of confidence and strength for his people during a particularly challenging time. Unfortunately, that turns out to have been just a come on and never really transpires in the film we get to see. As if that weren’t enough, we are treated to a story that is riddled with plot holes and unanswered questions, so that by the end we feel quite unfulfilled in the story department and exhausted by the seemingly endless barrage of flying kicks and twisting punches and sword duels.
And a minor comment on that; where the trailer teased us with imaginings of something as amazing as Hero or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, instead we are presented with an old school production that plays more like it came from Li’s 1980s period of chop-socky flix than anything from 2006.
Finally, the entire story of the main character, Huo Yuanjia, is—apparently—blown out of proportion through the generous imaginings of the writers and producers and director. Li’s Huo Yuanjia is a tale of a swaggering fighter who learns, through extremely bad choices, how to become humble. According to the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, the real Huo Yuanjia was truly a hero of the nation, a man who used the one talent he had to stand up to the tyranny of British foreigners.
As noted earlier, sadly, not enough of that story transpires here.
Riddled with plot issues, Jet Li’s Fearless is, at the end of the day, lifeless.
Del Harvey is a film critic and founder of Film Monthly. He lives in Chicago.
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