Posts Tagged ‘Jet Li’

Movie Reviews 449 – The Legend (1993)

September 11, 2020

I had to navigate the filmography of the many Jet Li films with the word “Legend” in the title to figure out which of the many movie series’ The Legend fits into. Which is kind of fitting since Li himself is hard to peg in the pantheon of “Legendary” cinematic martial artists. Arguably, among the three heavyweights, Li never had the physical acumen of Bruce Lee, nor the comedic chops (see what I did there?) of Jackie Chan. But when it comes to actual acting skills and range, Li easily tops both among these predecessor wuxia warriors.

As in many martial arts films, the theme of supremacy over challenged opponents is front and centre but surprisingly Li not only shares the limelight but is in some ways outshone by women combatants which figure just as prominently here. While Li is undoubtedly the superior fighter throughout, it is his mother played by longtime martial arts mistress Josephine Siao that stands firmly next in line followed closely by her sometime nemesis in this film, Siu-wan (Sibelle Hu).

The plot intertwines two families, that of Fong Sai-yuk (Li) and that of Ting-ting Lui (Michelle Reis), the girl he falls in love with. Ting-ting’s dad, affectionately called “Tiger” Lui (Chen Sung-young), is something of a village bully who hopes to buy up all the land but at the same time wants to maintain a humble image to others. The Fong family is a particular irritant to him as Sai-yuk’s father is one of the few holdouts refusing to sell. When Lui offers up his daughter’s hand in marriage to anyone who can defeat his wife(!) Siu-wan, the prospective men are quickly disposed of until Sai-yuk hears of the challenge and starts fighting her in a battle where the first opponent to touch the ground fails. But when Ting-ting flees right in the midst of the fighting, she is secretly substituted for a servant and upon noticing this Sai-yuk purposely loses. This results in Sai-yuk’s hooded mother (Siao) fighting Siu-wan in the same aerial manner, the latter thinking it is his brother and developing a spirited kinship as she fights.

It gets a little convoluted but the two families end up pitted against a mean governor acting on the behalf of the emperor and who is trying to get his hands on a list of the members of a secretive Red Flower Brotherhood fighting for justice.

While this is very much a comedy there are many touching moments and not only between the two young lovers which are hardly the most prevalent. The two elder women end up forming a tight bond that ends in a tearful dying moment. Sai-yuk’s mother swoons to any and all poetry which is played both for laughs and more poignant and intimate scenes. There are some running gags, Lui always trying to remain humble being one, but at the same time the film is distressingly sombre and violent.

But this is a martial arts film and in that regard there are plenty of nifty action sequences, again some on the lighter side, some with deadly consequences. The opening sequence had me worried as it was not only disjointed but also has some appallingly cheap special effects but those that turned out to be nothing but a silly dream sequence and thus purposely created for that effect.

Alternately titled simply as Fong Sai-yuk, there are conflicting views on whether the wuxia character was a real person living sometime during the Qing dynasty or whether he was just a fictional character. There was even a Fong Sai-yuk television series at one point but I’m unable to ascertain if that was a spinoff from these movies or a take on ‘the legend’.

All in all another great Jet Li film and another to add to the list of movies such as Fearless and Unleashed where he is much more than simply a fine fighter. Looking forward to finding The Legend 2 (A.K.A The Legend of Fong Sai-yuk 2) sometime soon as it seems to be equally acclaimed.

Movie Reviews 346 – Fearless (2006)

May 24, 2018

While Jet Li has always been a fair actor with martial arts skills to match but the movies he has performed in have been decidedly mixed in terms of quality as well as varied in terms of roles he has played. That range includes prominent roles such as the silent captive in Unleashed to his less than  inspirational government bred super soldier in Black Mask. Now that I have finally come around to watching Fearless I can easily say that this is by far my favourite Li film, both from the point of view of the story and in particular his multi-faceted role.

As a youngster Huo Yuanjia (Li) diligently watched his father teaching martial arts in his private school. Despite being beaten at school constantly by bullies his father refused to teach Huo himself how to fight due to his asthmatic condition. Unfazed and with the help of his more level headed best friend Jinsun (Dong Yong) he manages to steal a textbook so that he can teach himself how to fight. His inclination to learn becomes all encompassing the day he watches his father die in a ‘Death Challenge’ after having been victorious in a string of prior challenges. His father’s death is all the more perplexing to Huo as he had the upper hand in the battle but failed to deliver the fatal blow after having taken down the opponent.

Now a young family man, Huo racks up a string of victories just as his father did, until he becomes reigning champion of the region. But Huo arrogantly flaunts his status as his followers and students party incessantly. When a visiting rival fighter, Qin Lei, beats up one of Huo’s students he immediately goes to a family feast being hosted by Qin in his old friend Jinsun’s establishment. There Huo publicly challenges Qin, disrupting the festivities. Jinsun warns Huo that he is being reckless, but Huo will have none of it, and severing his friendship with Jinsun soundly beats Qin in battle. It is only after Qin dies overnight as a result of his injuries that Huo learns that he did not have the full story. But in retaliation Qin’s nephew has meted out his own justice, killing Huo’s family including his beloved young daughter.

A shattered man, Huo leaves town and becomes a wandering vagrant saved from drowning one day by old woman. The woman brings him home to heal at the hands of her blind daughter Yueci (Sun Li). In their village, toiling in the rice fields Huo learns about humility, patience, and finally love as he falls for Yueci. But Huo is compelled to return to his home to make amends for his past, and once there he is again lured to the battle arena. But this is a new Huo, and his fate will be dictated by his newfound wisdom.

While Fearless does have action sequences – one a particular standout battle atop a high scaffold arena – this is not an action packed film like most of Li’s other films. This film has a split personality that mimics the transition of Huo’s character growth. Edgy at first, then flowing into a somber and humble pace. The message of the film is one of personal ambition clashing with family values, morals and personal integrity while throwing in a dash of anti-colonialism. The end of kind of a mixed bag with Huo finding his inner peace but at a coming with price nonetheless.

If your looking for an action movie there are plenty of better choices, but if you want a well rounded martial arts film this will suit the bill and is definitely recommended.

Movie Reviews 253 – Tai Chi Master (1993)

January 18, 2016

Tai Chi MasterNever disappointed in any movie starring Michelle Yeoh, The Tai Chi Master, co-starring Jet Li captivates viewers with a barrage of novel and inspiring masterful martial arts moves on par with the best examples in the class. The acrobatics are not only relegated to the expected battles, but are also exhibited in more mundane scenes as well, delivering a character rich story dealing with life choices and the omnipresent battle between good and evil.

Two young monks grow up together in a Shaolin monastery in a friendly rivalry that nurtures their martial arts training and making both of them master practitioners. Opposite in nature, Junbao (Li) is the calm, cool headed thinking individual while his friend Tienbo (Chin Siu Ho) is the brash, obstinate one always seeking something better in life. When Tienbo dares to challenge a master at the monastery after a fellow student disciple cheats him in a battle contest, both he and Junbao are expelled together, forcing them find new lives outside the confines of the communal safe haven.

As soon as they get to the nearest village, they soon learn of the brutal and unfair tactics of corrupt gangs and tax collectors all at the behest of the governor and his henchmen. The men come to the rescue of Miss Lee (Fennie Yuen) a local restaurateur and another street merchant, Siu Lin (Yeoh) who has disavowed her former husband after he spurned her for a rich socialite. When the governor’s men extort the restaurant and the four newfound friends all ending up battling the governor’s representatives, they know this will be just the beginning of their troubles. Junbao decides that he will stay with the rebellious group associated with the establishment while to his surprise and shock, Tienbo takes up the recruitment offer by one of the governors captains. This pits the two men at odds with one another and their chosen paths in life. The entire movie plot reflects those virtues as the running theme like the art of Tai Chi itself which teaches patience and skill in order to train one’s mind.

As good as the story itself may be, it is enhanced at every turn by great action sequences and mesmerizing agile feats of physical prowess. Even imagining unseen wires and other photographic tricks, I found myself wondering how they filmed many of the spectacular sequences.

There are a few variants of English language releases for the DVD which was also released under the title Twin Warriors), mine being from Universe Laser (shown above and labelled as The Tai-Chi Master) suffered the always annoying, barely intelligible at times, ‘chinglish’ subtitles with no special features other than some equally terribly written bios for the stars and director Yuen Woo-ping. But even worse for me was the fact that I could not view the final chapter of the movie as my DVD kept faltering. While frustrating being deprived of the ending, there is no doubt that this is certainly of one of the most well rounded martial arts movies around.

On a side note, Woo-ping is the one who brought us Drunken Master and will be soon releasing the follow up to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, CTHD:Sword of Destiny which will have Yeoh reprise her role in the original. Yeah for more Yeoh!

Movie Reviews 140 – Black Mask (1996)

September 11, 2013

Black Mask posterThe government has created an experimental group of super-soldiers, the 701’s, out of a group of law enforcement officers . But when the 701’s proved to be unstable, the government tried to kill them off. Tsui Chik, A.K.A the Black Mask (Jet Li) is one of the super-soldiers who manages to escape and now lives as a quiet and reserved librarian, all the while wondering if any of the others managed to escape, especially Yeuk (yes an unfortunate name when vocalized in English), a girl he vowed he would always be there for. He soon gets his answer when a rash of superstrength villains start killing off all mob gangsters. He knows his former group of 701’s are behind it, but is unsure of their master plan or why they are now evil. His best friend is a cop who does not know of Tsui’s past or his abilities, but he is soon in the thick of the confrontation with the 701’s and it’s up to The Black Mask to save the day.

There is lots of action in this one, some outright hand to hand combat, other battles verging on fantasy and occultish influences. The Black Masks chauffeur style hat along with the masked (ridged here like Ruffle chips) are unmistakably derived from Kato from The Green Hornet and the script rightly makes reference to that fact. But the movie also has a slapstick side to it mostly delivered with the help of one of Tsui’s fellow librarians, Tracy (Karen Mok), who gets messed up in the melee and has a thing for Tsui. Of course a movie like this one can’t be complete without an evil,long hair, sunglass sporting leader. Just don’t try to make any sense of what the master plan was about in the first place. Your head will hurt if you try.

Black Mask insert2

This is not the best of movies in this genre nor it is anywhere near as good as other Jet Li movies. But it does have it’s moments and damn that Kato look is cool.

Movie Reviews 138 – Unleashed (2005)

August 29, 2013

UnleashedUnleashed is a rare gem of a martial arts movie in that it isn’t all just grunts and action scenes. Instead it vacillates between the violence, sweaty fighting, gangster action scenes and an almost Disneylike picturesque family movie. That is until those two worlds collide. Caught in the middle is Danny (Jet LI).

Danny was taken in by mobster Bart (Bob Hoskins) as a youngster and trained as one would a guard dog to fight on command. When not fighting he lives in a semi-catatonic world of his own, forever kept on a leash and a prisoner in more than just the physical sense. Danny’s world changes after an accidental encounter with Sam (Morgan Freeman), a blind piano tuner who takes him in when Danny manages to escape after an attack on Bart and the rest of his thugs. Sam brings Danny home, where he and his daughter Victoria (Kerry Condon) slowly coax Danny out his shell.

But Bart eventually finds Danny again and tries to cage him again and return him to the underground fighting ring. Danny’s re-abduction by Bart also leave a vacuum in Sam and Victoria’s world as they are unsure if he left voluntarily to return to whatever mysterious life he had before they took him in.

The acting is great from the entire cast with Li putting a credible and serious performance way beyond his usual fight drive roles. Hoskins is an absolutely loathsome mob boss without any morals. But the real credit goes to Freeman and Condon for their idyllic family that not only take Danny in but make him part of their family.

And don’t think that because there is a sombre side to the movie that it skips out on the action either. There is plenty of that whenever Danny finds himself in Bart’s hands. This movie really does deliver on both accounts.