Saturday, June 2, 2012

FIST OF LEGEND (1994, Gordon Chan, Golden Harvest)

This is the movie that got me back into kung fu movies after a very long absence. When I get a pay check, I tend to pick up a DVD or two. I've been doing it for a few years, and have a pretty large collection. I always enjoyed martial arts films and I had quite a few, but I hadn't watched any in a year or so until I saw a three pack Dragon Dynasty had put out with this film and two others (TAI CHI MASTER and MY FATHER IS A HERO) for ten bucks, so I said "Why not?" I brought it home, put this on for me and a couple friends and I've been watching kung fu movies everyday for six months now.

This film as you may or may not know, is inspired by the Bruce Lee film FIST OF FURY (Original US title: THE CHINESE CONNECTION) and it maintains the bare bones of the story: in Occupied Shanghai a brilliant martial artist returns to avenge his master's death at the hands of Japanese occupiers. However, between the early 70's and mid 90's Japan had become one of the biggest markets for Hong Kong action movies, so they have to walk a tightrope here. If you saw CAPTAIN AMERICA (THE FIRST AVENGER) you know what I'm talking about here. In that movie, the bad guys were switched from Nazis to HYDRA agents so Germans wouldn't get too mad. This movie doesn't invent a fictional special weapons division, but it does take time to let you know that some of it's best friends are Japanese: The first thing we see in Japan are antiwar protestors; Jet Li loves a Japanese woman, and hey some of these Chinese guys could work on their tolerance too. There's also a Japanese karate expert who turns out to be a solid guy and gives Jet Li the key piece of instruction he needs to (spoiler) beat the bad guy at the end and win the movie.

When I watched this movie with my buddies we didn't really discuss the racial and nationalistic nuances because we were busy freaking out every time Jet Li got into a fight (which happened at a regular clip). Yuen Woo Ping choreographed these fights, and it shows because even though the wire work is minimal every fight begins with someone going from moving normal to WARP FACTOR 5 in the way that people only seem to do in Yuen Woo Ping movies. I have a real soft spot for the first big fight in the movie where Jet Li beats about 12 Japanese dudes down by dislocating various body parts (including one guy's jaw, which prompts him to literally turn around to his fellow assholes and point to his jaw like "What the fuck is this shit?"). There's a duel between Jet Li and a karate master towards the end of the film that is pretty like a lady: they amongst a cyclone of swirling leaves on the ground and it felt a lot like a Baby Cart movie for a second. Then when the karate master is blinded by swirling flora, Jet Li whips out a scarf and they have a BLINDFOLDED DUEL that is about ten thousand times better than anything they will ever come up with for a Daredevil movie, because they are too busy force feeding everyone the same fight scene twenty different ways over there at Fox.

Sometimes the things other people say about movies are so perfect that they should be presented by themselves and an online acquaintance had this to say about one aspect of the final fight and I think it rings true:

[QUOTE] when he starts whipping [the main bad guy] with his belt like a dog at the end... I mark out every time - Rusellmania [/QUOTE]

Yeah, if you want to see a man get beaten about the face with a heavy leather belt at light speed, this is a movie you need to see.

COOLEST MOMENTS:
- Belt whipping
- Blindfold duel, and the MARTIAL CHIVALRY implicit within.
- Jet Li beats up an entire school.
- Japanese general murders underling with a backbreaker.
- Facial dislocation.

Highly recommended.

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