Jet Li’s Fearless is reportedly the star’s final martial arts epic. Since we’re talking about the guy who did Once Upon a Time in China, Twin Warriors and Hero, that fact alone makes this is a significant film for martial arts fans.
Fearless tells the story of Huo Yuanjia, who in 1910 helped found the Jin Wu Sports Federation (Chin Woo Athletic Association), the first civil Kung Fu organization in China. Li plays Yuanjia, who is a Chinese folk hero. The film follows Yuanjia’s life from early childhood until his last days, showing his journey from a weak, little boy to a cocky, selfish bully, and finally to a respected martial arts master and Chinese patriot.
Along the way, there are plenty of fights. These will likely be the main draw for most, and the sequences will not disappoint. Designed by renowned fight choreographer Yuen Wo Ping (The Matrix Trilogy), the fights are exciting, inventive and all-around impressive. Li is a skilled martial artist, and the fluid grace of his movements raises the bouts from mere violence to physical art.
The film is not without a compelling story, however. It may be heavy-handed, but the story of Fearless is full of martial arts philosophy and themes of loss, friendship, honour and redemption. The tale of a man who finds a true path in this world is nothing new, but it certainly is something that can be universally appreciated.
Fearless also flows well and looks great. Cinematographer Hang-Sang Poon (Kung Fu Hustle) and director Ronny Yu (Freddy vs. Jason) did a fine job together, combining beautiful, artistic shots with a flowing story for a final film that feels very smooth. The editing challenges of the film’s intricate fight sequences have also been well met by editing team Virginia Katz (Alias) and Richard Learoyd (I, Robot). The fight scenes are often very fast, but thankfully also quite clear, relative to the increasingly popular blur-shake approach to presenting film combat. It would be a shame to miss any of the details in these exquisite encounters.
As Jet Li’s final martial arts film, Fearless is great finish to a storied chapter of the action star’s career. As I understand it, we can still look forward to Li’s fists of fury in other action films, but not in a true martial arts movie like this one. With that in mind, savor every moment of this excellent kung fu film.
So, how’s the DVD?
Jet Li’s Fearless – Unrated Widescreen Edition is presented on one disc, in 2.35:1 widescreen format. It looks really good. The transfer is clean, with strong contrast, natural colours and sharp picture. I have no issues to report.
The main menu is animated, scored.
Audio options are Dolby Digital 5.1 in dubbed English or the original Mandarin (with English subtitles). I didn’t bother with the English track, as I can’t stand dubbing. The Mandarin mix is excellent, with full, well-defined sound. The surround channels get plenty of use throughout the film, especially during the various fight sequences. Again, no complaints here.
Subtitles are available in English, French and Spanish.
Not much in the way of bonus material with this one, just a making-of called A Fearless Journey and a deleted scene.
A Fearless Journey runs about 15 minutes, and is a solid featurette. There’s plenty of depth here, as we learn more about Li’s decision to stop doing martial arts films, and get behind the scenes on the fight choreography. There’s also coverage of Li’s career thus far, and on the martial arts genre in general. Definitely worth a look.
The deleted scene is more of a full sequence at about seven minutes. It presents a sort-of side quest during the protagonist’s time in the country. Interesting to watch, but it definitely doesn’t belong in the final film, as the added length would have hurt the overall flow.
Jet Li goes out of the martial arts genre with a bang with Fearless. This is a must-have for any Li fan, as the audio and video presentation make up for the slim bonus features offering.