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"Jet Li's Fearless"

Directed by Ronny Yu.
Written by Chris Chow.
Starring Jet Li, Yong Dong, Betty Sun and Shido Nakamura.
Release Year: 2006
Review Date:  10/1/06


If this really is Jet Li's final martial arts epic, "Jet Li's Fearless" was a solid exit from the genre.

"Fearless" doesn't touch some of Li's more legendary stuff, like "Once Upon a Time in China" (the first one) or "Fist of Legend", but it still gives The People a great mix of some bad-ass action and a story that is quite engaging.  In the early 1900s, a Chinese martial arts master named Huo Yuanjia (Li) rises from the son of a small-town martial arts legend to the best fighter in his home town to clan leader.  After challenging the best that his town has to offer, he fights the reigning town champ and his clan...and, after this fight and an unfortunate series of accidents, Huo finds himself in a remote village under the care of a blind woman (Betty Sun) who teaches him what is truly important about life and the people of China.  Huo returns to society a changed--and notably more peaceful--man, and when a coalition of British powermongers comes to China and belittles the Chinese people by proposing a fight between the world's best fighters and whatever trash China can put up, Huo steps forward to take on the best of the best.

This is based on the true story of Yuanjia's life, so not knowing the true background here leaves me unable to question some of the story's main elements.  But, what is here is mostly engaging; Yuanjia's story is somewhat familiar in terms of his rise from nobody to People's Champion, but the execution is sharp thanks to the charisma of Li and the fight choreography of Yuen Woo-ping (jeez, "The Matrix" is now the most famous work for folks in this country, but everything he touches turns out lovely).  The film's main set piece, as Huo fights the other major city champion mid-film, is fantastic; there are only three or four fights worth talking about but those are all very well done.

But, because so much of the film's second half is fight-free, you have to be entertained by watching Huo just kind of get it, just kind of realize that life's about much more than fighting, and director Ronny Yu ("Freddy vs. Jason", if that can be believed) does good work with making the transition from action film to personal drama in "Fearless."  The scenes between the blind woman and Huo are done well; when Huo comes back to society and goes through pieces of his past--leading up to the federation's competition--it isn't rushed, and I'm glad it didn't turn back into an action film.  "Fearless" works as a drama no matter what the language (this film is subtitled throughout) thanks to Li's surprisingly good acting abilities, which have begun to surface a bit following his work in "Unleashed" and here in "Fearless."

Not a bad little movie.  In the dumping ground that is September, "Fearless" is one of the few films out right now that is worth seeing.

Rating:  $9.50 Show


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09