Friday, November 18, 2011

Friday Night Fu Review: Fearless

Fearless ½ 
Though he disappointed me awhile back with The One, I decided to give Jet Li another chance. He'd never let me down before, after all. I needed to wash the lingering taste of 2001 out of my mouth and move on.

Fearless (2006) was a palate cleanser of the best ilk. It was directed by Ronny Yu, but I was convinced it had to be Wilson Yip's work. Yip directed 2008's artful Ip Man and its even more artful sequel, and that franchise and Fearless are reminiscent of each other in multiple ways. Both are historical Chinese biopics, but the similarities go far beyond that. I wouldn't say Ip Man is derivative, but I'd be surprised if Yip hadn't been influenced by Fearless.

But on to the story. Fearless is the dramatized biography of Huo Yuanjia, a real-life Chinese Wushu Master. He starts the story as a charmingly feckless, bullied child, maturing into a kick-ass fighter, young widower, and father, whose cockiness and party-boy habits lead him to great trouble and tragedy, in the form of his remaining family being slain in revenge for his careless disrespect toward another local Master. Nice character arc from invincible to reckless to ruined to reborn and redeemed.

Oh, Tanaka… sigh.
There's also a great thread involving Yuanjia's lifelong best friend, a businessman who stands by him through his terrible mistakes and ultimately funds his participation in some exciting bouts against various non-Chinese challengers (much encroaching colonialism, though not as demonized as that in Ip Man). There's also a nice little understated romantic subplot involving the charming actress, Betty Sun. The villains in this story were handled exceedingly well—very human, unlike Ip Man 2's monstrous but cartoonish Mr. Twister. So, the movie was already great…then add to it the special bonus called Shidô Nakamura, a Japanese kabuki actor and major fox who played the highly thrustable anti-villain of the final showdown fight, Tanaka. Unh. Unh on you and your most honorable sword, Tanaka.

So, I highly recommend Fearless. Oh crap, and I haven't even mentioned the actual fighting, which was tremendous. It's hard to find a truly original fight scene in the Kung Fu genre, in choreography or setting, but this film had some real gems. But the best thing of all was that the fighting and the story and the execution of the film were all equally strong. If Ong Bak hadn't set the bar so didonkulously high for this feature, Fearless would've been a five-star Kung Fu flick for me. Here's one of its many kick-ass fight scenes…I normally don't care much for weapons, but whoever did the sword choreography for this film was nuts. So good. Go find the whole movie on Instant Watcher.

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