LEGEND OF THE FIST: THE RETURN OF CHEN ZHEN (Andrew Lau)
I loved the Bruce Lee homage, and considering that Donnie Yen also played Chen Zhen in the 1995 TV series (which I haven't seen), I think this reimagining of the famous fictional folk hero's story is a must-see. It is timely because there is a current resurgence of HongKong martial arts films, with Yen just finished portraying Ip Man twice. LEGEND OF THE FIST isn't necessarily excellent; there are flaws in the storytelling, but what it lacks in coherence it certainly makes up for fist-to-fist and sole-to-face action.
No other could have played the character better than Donnie Yen. I loved the climax scene where he is dressed in white Mandarin suit, kicking all those hapless Japanese posers into walls, into midair, and onto each other, complete with that trademark Bruce Lee screaming.
Shu Qi as the enigmatic leading lady is fascinating. Apart from SO CLOSE and MILLENIUM MAMBO (I have yet to see this), this is certainly one of her notable roles.
Anthony Wong plays Master Liu, a very influential Chinese figure in Shanghai. Wong is so much a character actor he doesn't need too many dialogue. His eyes speak louder than words.
Huang Bo as Police Inspector Huang Haolong provides support to Chen Zhen's character. While a bit typecast, the cop character has some fine moments in the film. Just watch him lecture that British bastard.
Another one of the film's strengths is the Kato (from the Green Hornet) reference. In the middle part of the film, Chen Zhen disguises himself as THE MASKED WARRIOR, wearing all black and that famous Kato mask as he thwarts assassinations being carried out by the Japanese against its adversaries.
The action choreography is impressive, as to be expected from Donnie Yen. There's Judo, Jeet Kune Do and yes, Wing Chun. Visually, you'd see Chen Zhen being a combination of Ip Man, Kato, and Chen Zhen.
On the downside, the political story arc is so stretched thin both IP MAN movies and the heavily-awarded BODYGUARDS AND ASSASSINS, both starring Yen made more sense.
All of a sudden the story goes from 1917 France onto Shanghai in the 1920s and then back and forth and back and forth and then, all of a sudden the cop character of Huang Bo are acquainted with THE MASKED WARRIOR.
There's too much vague references if you haven't seen the TV series and the original Bruce Lee film. I have seen the Bruce Lee film, but I can barely remember it; all I could recall is the famous ending.
While a very much welcome update of the Chen Zhen story, director Andrew Lau does not add much to improve the franchise. At least movie cliches could have been avoided, like when Chen Zhen gets beat up, remembers those who died, then gets up and suddenly he's unbeatable. I mean, come on let's scrap these things! It's like watching a Steven Seagal movie, except that Seagal doesn't get hit in his movies.