Reviews & Previews - Jet Li's Fearless

Posted on Monday, November 06, 2006 at 05:00 PM

Jet Li's Fearless

By: S. Tran

Starring: Jet Li
Directed By: Ronny Yu
Running Time: 103 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 for violence and martial arts action throughout.

Fruitless Too

Fearless is, by Jet Li's own admission, his last martial arts movie. Which is not to say its his last action movie, just the last one where he will be playing a martial arts master in the traditional sense. In interviews Li explained that he feels he has done what he can with the genre and admitted his age made it difficult to do justice to the traditional martial arts. He sees the film as a culmination of the genre for him. While I can appreciate Li's lofty intentions for the film, trying to appreciate it as anything more than an average martial arts flick is difficult.

The movie based loosely on the life of Huo Yuan Jia, a martial arts master who became a legend for taking on foreign fighters who came to China in the early 1900s. I'm no scholar of Chinese history so I can't say how accurate the story was to the real events. In the film, Li plays Huo, a fighter who gains local fame for becoming the champion of the region. Eventually his fighting leads him to a high profile tournament where he alone carries the pride of the Chinese on his shoulders and in his fists and feet. Along the way of course, as in all Chinese kung fu films, he must learn humility and the wisdom to know when not to fight.

While not a bad movie Fearless suffers from too many cliches and poor acting. You would think that a movie based on a real life story wouldn't come off as some recycled clone but unfortunately that's what we get here. Everything from the too proud young fighter who matures into wiser, compassionate older fighter to the young pretty blind girl who helps him feels like it was borrowed from other movies. Sometimes I wonder if the countryside in China is full of good looking women with bad eyesight waiting for the bad boy to come along so they can help him "see" the error of his ways.

The acting also fails to live up to the same high standards that Li has set for his martial arts skills. Unlike the understated acting of Chow Yun Fat in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Li is over the top and you see him trying to act. Fat is an actor who does martial arts, Li is a fighter who acts and the differences are noticeable. There is simply too much range here for Li to try and cover with his limited acting skills. Li is at his best when he can play the quiet but deadly types who speak with their fists more than anything else. The supporting cast members are a little better but there were no stand out performances

When Li is actually fighting instead of acting he is still one of the best. It is hard to believe that he is in his forties as you watch him in the action scenes. There's nothing to really wow fans of martial arts films but the choreography is good enough to satisfy the casual fan. There is a bit of wire work in the fighting but most of it is Li. If his skills have diminished I didn't notice.

At the end of the day this is not the grand farewell that Li was hoping for. Its a mildly entertaining movie that seems dated and formulaic. Perhaps a good choice for the DVD player on a slow night.


2.5 out of 5 stars.


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