"Fearless" excels despite flaws

Sept. 25, 2006, midnight | By Jordan Fein | 14 years, 1 month ago

Stunning fighting drives Jet Li farewell epic

Asthma-inflicted child trains relentlessly to prove he can fight. Resulting superhuman martial artist vanquishes all foes. Life changing event prompts re-evaluation of selfish reasons for endless violence. Fighter emerges moral and honorable, kicks butt for more socially acceptable cause.

It seems as if we've seen "Jet Li's Fearless" so many times before. This may be because it marks the end of Jet Li's long career of similar movies. Its recycled, predictable plot features Huo Yuanjia (Li) in early 20th century China fighting first for himself and later for his country. And with this stale a story comes the inevitable barrage of clichéd dialogue.

Then again, who goes to see a martial arts movie for its plot or discourse? Fearless's story, after all, is only a vehicle for Jet Li to showcase his awe-inspiring Wushu martial arts talents for the last time; its dialogue only a brief respite before Li's fists return to center stage. From start to finish, "Fearless" is packed with breathtakingly realistic action sequences featuring blow after blow as Li relentlessly pummels everything in his way, including chairs, stairs, railings and pots.

"Fearless" feels so real in part because Li, having trained in Wushu since the age of eight, performs his own stunts a la Jackie Chan. Slow-motion Matrix-esque effects let you hear and even feel Li displace his opponents' bones and crack their fingers as if they were crab legs.

Director Ronny Yu even injects some humor into "Fearless." At one point, after Huo performs his trademark finger-breaking move on O'Brien (who makes Arnold Schwarzenegger look like a "girlie man"), the confused behemoth wags his useless appendages up and down and clumsily rushes at our hero, who deftly sidesteps the attack. In another scene, Huo's hapless foe is stripped of his sword and clothes, and, unable to fight, is reduced to grunting at Huo pathetically.

The fight scenes in "Fearless" never get old. What does become tiresome is the movie's endless supply of clichés. Yu can't get away from the theme of how "your most formidable enemy is within." Although this fits with Huo's inner struggles after his urge to fight causes unintended and disastrous consequences, Yu would have done well to produce more original dialogue. His saving grace may be that many "Fearless" patrons are too revved up from the last action sequence to bother reading the film's subtitles.

"Fearless" also suffers when Li plants crops in a Chinese Shire-like village and attempts to "find himself." During this sequence, most will probably miss trying to follow the glint of steel or the latest blow, but others may appreciate the soothing music and artful visuals. As Huo plants crops, Chinese tunes symbolize his inner peace and restoration. The passage of time is similarly represented by spring fading into summer, then into fall and finally into winter.

When you walk out of "Fearless," you won't be disappointed. Whether its clichés and unimaginative plot amuse or annoy you, you won't leave thinking about them. You'll exit thinking, in the words of one theatergoer, "Oh @!#%, man." Indeed, the all-you-can-eat action buffet that is Jet Li's farewell could prompt such a response.

"Jet Li's Fearless" (103 minutes, in wide release) is rated PG-13 for violence and martial arts action. Chinese with English subtitles.

Jordan Fein. Jordan Fein is a magnet senior (woot!) who is enamored of politics and journalism. He is very politically active and enjoys talking politics with whomever is willing. Politics, politics, politics. He is looking forward to his second year of writing on Silver Chips and especially … More »

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