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Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen (Collector's Edition) [Blu-ray]
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In 1920s China, the nation is divided by infighting. Japan has become the most powerful force in Asia, taking over Northern Shanghai. With the city torn in half by international conflict, the popular nightclub Casablanca has become a hotbed of spies, mobsters, English officials and the Japanese military- all looking to gain control of the country, with little regard for what happens to its citizens.
Into this den of intrigue enters Chen Zhen, once played by Bruce Lee in FIST OF FURY and Jet Li in FIST OF LEGEND. Chen Zhen (Donnie Yen), has returned to China after fighting alongside the Allied forces in Europe, bringing some dark secrets from his past along with him. During the day, he's known as "Ku", and appears to be just another wealthy playboy. But at night, he takes to the street as a masked warrior, determined to subvert the Japanese invasion while becoming entangled with the sultry Kiki (Shu Qi), who has a dangerous secret of her own. When his past catches up to him, Zhen is faced with near impossible odds- but his skills are formidable, and he's up to the challenge.
Combining the best of today's martial arts and superhero action with the classic spy thrillers of the past (and a healthy dose of film noir on top), LEGEND OF THE FIST is the rare action film that truly gives the audience something they've never seen before.
Behind The Scenes
Cast and Crew Interviews
Optional English Dub
"A popcorn movie of epic proportion!" --The Hollywood Reporter
"An avalanche of ass-kicking!" --BadAss Digest
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Since everyone else was effing around, Donnie Yen took it upon himself to go make a quasi-sequel to Bruce Lee's FIST OF FURY (a.k.a. THE CHINESE CONNECTION). LEGEND OF THE FIST: THE RETURN OF CHEN ZHEN retains the unabashed nationalism of the Bruce Lee film but then injects a bit of a pulp hero sensibility. Given that there isn't as much martial arts as one could've wished for, Donnie Yen gets an opportunity to exhibit his acting chops. I thought he did decent. But, having already seen the IP MAN pictures, I already knew Yen could handle dialogue and demonstrate some nuance.
The story opens with a rather spectacular action set piece and a bit of historical trivia. I, for one, had no idea that the Chinese were used as laborers in Europe during WWI. In France, 1917, when Chen Zhen and his fellow Chinese are trapped by enemy fire, Chen Zhen springs into action, taking the fight to the Germans in one of those unbelievable, bloody violent, stunt-laden sequences. Chen Zhen's brutal knife work here would make Jack the Ripper weep with envy. Viewing this entire sequence will get your juices going, makes you anticipate further moments of badassery. But I'll spill the goods again. Too much talky talky, not enough Donnie Yen smiting goons with no remorse.
The plot picks up some years later, in 1925, as Chen Zhen makes his return to a Japanese-occupied Shanghai. Having adopted the name "Qi Tianyuan" and now sporting a pencil-thin mustache, Chen Zhen worms his way into a junior partnership at the swank nightclub, Casablanca, and it's all part of a plan. The nightclub's owner is in cahoots with the Japanese, and Chen Zhen figures this is the best way to stay on top of things. It's a highly charged political climate, as the Japanese delights in sowing dissension among the Chinese factions. When a death list is released, the fit really hits the shan.
I'll never turn down a chance to ogle Shu Qi. Plenty of spies in the house of Casablanca, Chen Zhen being merely one of them. We're filled in early on that Shu Qi's gorgeous nightclub hostess, Kiki, is a Japanese operative whose true name is, like, "Kristy Yamaguchi" or close enough to it. Her romance with Chen Zhen goes nowhere, so it may be best to just appreciate that quirky energy Shu Qi brings to the picture.
Props to the cinematography which is sleek and expertly rendered. But the visuals don't do anything to mitigate that jarring feel. The film strives to be different genres simultaneously. It aims for political drama, and a superhero tale, and a martial arts rabble rouser, but I don't think these elements coalesce into a perfectly unifying narrative. It did make sense that Chen Zhen, when he swoops in to kick arse, opts to don the costume and mask to avoid identification. But then the writers forget to develop the superhero angle, and then, for the third act, more or less wash their hands off it. Still, things perk up whenever Kato - er, I mean the Masked Warrior - pops up onscreen.
The Masked Warrior gets some good licks in, but it's the opening and closing action sequences that'll really float your boat. Ultimately, the story circles around to Bruce Lee, and this ties into the Japanese big bad's ulterior motive. The climactic showdown takes place in a dojo with Chen Zhen chopping down hordes of karate henchmen, or, as I like to call these guys: bruises on legs. There's a callback to Bruce Lee's "sick men of Asia" remark, and Donnie Yen even lets out with the occasional Bruce Lee dragon yelp. Mind you, I'm not saying that Yen captures the essence of Lee. I don't think he was going for that, and he doesn't achieve it, anyway. What Yen does is more of an homage and, from that viewpoint, it's a treat to watch him.
3.5 stars out of 5 for LEGEND OF THE FIST: THE RETURN OF CHEN ZHEN. I did mention all the talking, right? It's a heck of a chore, having to slog thru those big, dry chunks of exposition.
What I have is the MediaAsia release. The DVD's extras (with English sub-titles): the Making Of the film featurette (00:15:11 minutes long); Behind the Scenes peek during the film shoot (00:47:47 minutes); Director's Unseen Footage - 10 extended & deleted scenes (00:11:21); and two trailers of the film.
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