Judge David Johnson has a Spleen of Legend.
One of the all-time great action movies and Jet Li's finest work finally arrives on the special edition DVD set it deserves. Dragon Dynasty' edition of Fist of Legend does not disappoint.
Facts of the Case
Jet Li (The Forbidden Kingdom) is Chen Zhen, an actual historical figure in the world of Chinese martial artistry. While studying abroad in Japan, Chen is notified of his master's demise at the hands of a Japanese rival. He immediately departs for Shanghai to investigate the circumstances behind the death—and promptly inserts himself into a blood feud between martial arts schools, while the volatile political situation between China and Japan escalates.
And when Chen's Japanese girlfriend shows up, fuel is poured onto the fire, forcing Chen to choose between the alliances of his countrymen and fighting comrades and the woman that sacrificed for him. Oh, and let's not forget some of the most kick-ass fight scenes ever committed to film. Ever.
The title of "greatest kung fu film ever" is no doubt applied to a variety of flicks by a variety of fans. Perhaps Bruce Lee's Fists of Fury, upon which this film is based, is considered the number one chop-socky actioner by many. To each his own and who am I to deny one's tastes? Truth is, there has yet to be a martial arts bonanza created that eclipses Fist of Legend. Ong Bak might feature more eye-popping stunts, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon has the fantasy romance down, but none have compared to the pure, distilled awesomeness that Fist provides throughout its 103 minutes.
This is Jet Li at his most impressive, both physically and emotionally; his action stuff here (choreographed with the legendary Yuen Wo-Ping) is jaw-dropping and his acting is both subtle and bracing. This is the total package, an excellent story and top-shelf acting peppered with some of the greatest hand-to-hand exchanges in cinematic history.
And that is not hyperbole. I defy you to watch Chen's one-man assault on the Japanese dojo, his smackdown in the classroom, the duel with his best friend, the blindfolded match with the Japanese master and, of course, the final showdown with the towering Japanese general, the extended, brutal, exhilarating one-on-one sequence that is the standard for Final Bad Guy bouts and consistently ranks on top five lists of best action scenes that I've seen. It certainly belongs on mine.
The key to the effectiveness of the action is the conscious choice made by Li, Yuen Wo-Ping and director Gordon Chan to keep the action grounded. There is wire work here, but it's minimal and nothing like the flying-through-the-air shenanigans of Li's Once Upon a Time in China and Fong Sai Yuk franchises. The kung fu is down and dirty, yet still a pleasure to behold and despite the fact that the action is so copious and so extensive, there's always something new coming. Blindfolds, belts, crotch grabs, flash kicks, dislocated shoulder-fighting, and more!
Best of all, the action isn't empty because the story is so compelling and the character participating in the beat-downs actually bring emotional investment to the set-pieces; these aren't mindless, vengeance-fueled encounters, but pay-offs to well-executed storytelling and character development.
Look, if you're even a casual martial arts fan you know this film and should purchase this release immediately. If you dig action and want to see Jet Li dominate the dojo before he was paired up with DMX and Anthony Anderson, you too should purchase this release.
The Dragon Dynasty treatment is always top-notch, and this one is no different. Dwarfing the previous release by miles, this two-disc "ultimate edition" features a great-looking 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen that features only a handful of visual hiccups. Several scenes noticeably degrade in quality, but considering the studio's reputation, I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt and blame print quality. Two Chinese stereo tracks join the dubbed 5.1 mix—I recommend going with the original sound with the subtitles as both the dialogue and the soundtrack are better.
The extras are terrific. Hong King cinema expert Bey Logan, one of the best feature commentators in the business, unloads with another fantastic commentary and Disc Two features interviews with director Gordon Chan, co-star Chin Siu-ho and actor Kurata Yasuaki, a featurette on Yasuaki's screen action school, deleted scenes and reactions to the film from Brett Ratner and Elvis Mitchell.
A true masterpiece, Fist of Legend finally gets a suitable digital presentation. A must-own for…well, anyone with eyeballs and a love for dudes punching each other in the throat.
Not guilty. Now please put the belt away.
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