Fist of Legend (1994)
When a Chinese martial artist returns to Shanghai, he finds his former teacher dead and his school is overrun by the Japanese.
Director: Gordon Chan
Writers: Gordon Chan (screenplay), Kwong Kim Yip (screenplay) (as Ip Kwong Kim)
Stars: Jet Li, Shinobu Nakayama, Siu-Ho Chin
Any attempt at retelling a Bruce Lee film is fraught with risk. There’s the how-dare-you reaction from fans that the makers have to deal with and the inevitable is there anybody who can be Bruce other than Bruce. The only way you can make it work is to replace the master with another master. Fist of the Legend does that with Jet Li taking on the angry young man role. Jet Li and choreographer Yuen Woo Ping team up with Director Gordon Chan, to take on this risk and in many ways far surpass the original. That fans took to this movie and embraced both the action and the story is testament to the polished work that both the actor and the production team brought to it.
Jet Li stays true to the original and in his own unique, stunning way gives the aura of Chen Zhen, an added halo.
It’s the usual martial arts tale (martial arts teacher killed through villainy, student avenges death) but strung up with unusual fight sequences. The choreography of fights in this movie inspired the makers of The Matrix to paint some of their more visually arresting sequences. The setting of this movie draws inspiration from Bruce Lee's legendary ''Fist of Fury'' with warring Chinese and Japanese fighting traditions and styles pitted against each other. Some of the hand to hand combat sequences are simply brilliant - one where Li (limbering up and jogging in a dance around his rival) pays tribute to Bruce and will have martial art fans whistling, clapping, yelling with joy.
The whole Japanese school sequence that was a fan favourite with Bruce Lee fans and that we thought could never have been done better, is lifted several notches. Jet Li stays true to the original and in his own unique, stunning way gives the aura of Chen Zhen, an added halo. Each fight is crafted consciously with the Jet Li v Billy Chow at the end, ranked by many as one of the best fights ever. And that’s another thing that stands out in this movie - it’s not just Jet Li’s skill that you applaud but that of his opponents as well.The movie also toned down the Japanese bashing. There’s a more even handed treatment, it’s individuals who are to blame, not a race.
Unlike most martial arts movies, the use of wires is minimal giving each of the sequences a more realistic and wrenching feel. Jet Li as Chen Zhen does justice not only to the fighting but also to the acting, giving the movie a depth and width beyond the original. If a classic could be made more-classic - Fist of the Legend shows how.