"Fearless" fails

Sept. 25, 2006, midnight | By Simon Kanter | 17 years ago

Maybe it's a good thing this is Jet Li's last movie

Jet Li is truly fearless. He has faced every kind of opponent and defeated them soundly, conquering not only his enemies but himself. But for some reason, in his latest and last film, he seems to have a strange phobia: plot.

"Fearless" featured Li at his best: kicking butt left and right with astonishing grace and unbelievably cool moves while simultaneously fighting a moral dilemma. Unfortunately, even Li at his best could not act his way into a 4th grade musical about the food pyramid.

The fight choreography, by Woo-ping Yuen, who also did "The Matrix" and "Kill Bill," is impressive. The battles are inventive, exhilarating and jaw-dropping, augmented by spectacular cinematography presented by director Ronny Yu. The fights really showcased Li's capabilities well, but unfortunately they were few and far-between.

The main problem with the movie is that the "far-between" was made up of poorly done dramatic scenes that seemed to have no cohesion or sense of a unified theme. The previews of the movie quoted something along the lines of "To conquer your enemies is to be strong, but to conquer yourself is to be fearless," but the plot had more to do with cheesy propaganda-like messages of Chinese unification against the industrialized nations of the world than self conquering. Just that quote alone invigorates and makes hearts pump, anticipating Jet Li conquering some moral, spiritual and physical opponents in an epic film. But "Fearless" didn't even address the issue of Li mastering himself: he just went away to work on a farm in Mongolia somewhere and came back to kick some foreigner tail.

The movie is more like an advertisement for Chairman Mao than a martial arts film, only made trashier by the fourth-grade reading level subtitles. I'm sure that the dialogue would have been just as bad in English; I know how hard translating between two languages can be (trust me — I got a B in Spanish once), but it does not seem like they even tried. The message translates poorly over cultural boundaries as well as linguistic ones, giving the illusion of poor production values only to be rivaled by that of "The Protector," which at least had an hour of solid, simply amazing, fight scenes.

On the one hand, the movie progresses haltingly, makes little sense and has nothing to do with being fearless. On the other hand, Jet Li kills a guy by punching his heart in half.

Honestly, even if it is Jet Li's last movie and, granted, some of the fighting is pretty insane, viewers could get a more engaging plotline and many times the action and martial arts genius by spending their allowances instead on "The Protector" (nominated for 37 Simon awards, including "most ridiculously mind-blowing fight scenes ever," "most epic thing I've ever seen in my life," "most number of impossibly huge bodyguards incapacitated" and 34 nominations for "best movie ever").

I'm sad to see such a martial arts giant as Jet Li go, but not quite sad enough to overlook the gaping inconsistencies in his latest film. I just hope Li is "Fearless" enough to take some "constructive criticism" from reviewers, but even more so I hope he doesn't read this and punch my heart in half.

"Fearless" is rated PG-13 for martial arts violence and is playing at area theaters.

Simon Kanter. Simon "The Food Guy" Kanter is the silliest person you will ever meet. Though his true joy in life is posting recipes, Simon finds time to spend patting himself on the back for his witty remarks, breeding Trogdors, stealing markers, staplers and other convenient appliances, … More »

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