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Fearless - Review

Jet Li in Fearless

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 3.5 out of 5

FEARLESS is being hailed as Jet Li’s final martial arts epic. If that’s true, then it’s a great way to go.

Based on the true story of martial arts master Huo Yuanjia, the film is directed by Ronny Yu, produced by the team behind House of Flying Daggers and boasts breathtaking fight choreography from The Matrix maestro Yuen Wo Ping.

Sadly, it lacks the emotional clout needed to make it a classic in the mould of House of Flying Daggers or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and, most tellingly, doesn’t provide that much of an insight into Yuanjia beyond the fighting.

The film picks up as Yuanjia (Li) witnesses his father being humiliated in a public duel and resolves to become an even greater fighter.

He subsequently devotes himself to training and becomes a skilled and powerful fighter, developing a reputation as an arrogant hot-head who would never shy away from a challenge.

When one of his young apprentices is injured by a respected master named Chin, Yuanjia thirsts for immediate revenge and kills him without remorse.

But the act leads to the revenge killing of his own wife and child and forces Yuanjia to flee Tianjin filled with grief and shame.

He is subsequently saved by Grandma Sun and her blind grand-daughter, Moon, who bring him back to the village where they live and care for him, during which time he falls in love and carves out a new existence.

But having found his own peace, Yuanjia resolves to return to Tianjin to serve martial arts as an ambassador and sets about teaching his followers the spirit of sportsmanship.

In his absence, however, China has become gripped by warring factions, who perceive Yuanjia as a threat and challenge him to a duel against four fighters representing the four major foreign powers in China.

He subsequently faces off against a British boxer, a Spanish swordsman, a Belgian soldier and a Japanese martial arts master in a series of fights in September, 1910, that result in a shattering conclusion.

As breathtaking and bone-crunching as many of the outstanding fight sequences in Fearless are, the film ultimately suffers from its choice of director.

A story of such magnitude that carries so many emotional highs and lows deserves a director of Ang Lee or Zhang Yimou’s quality but is sadly let down by Yu, who sidesteps many of the weightier issues.

As a result, viewers aren’t really afforded much of an insight into the man beyond the fighter – aside from the brief interlude his self-imposed exile affords.

Li’s performance also suffers as a result given that it hints at so much more depth.

But martial arts fans seeking a spectacular final bow from the 43-year-old actor won’t be disappointed by the film’s numerous fight sequences, which finally make the most of Li’s undoubted physical prowess without resorting to unnecessary CGI effects.

Some of the fights are dizzying in the extreme, while all are delivered in unflinching fashion so that you can practically feel the pain.

As such, Fearless succeeds in delivering a stunning martial arts extravaganza that not only honours the memory of one of its founding fathers but provides a suitably impressive send-off for one of its greatest contemporary servants.

If this truly is Li’s last epic, then it’s worth seeing for that reason alone.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 104 minutes