Many times when you see a trailer over and over, one has to ask themselves: Do they really want to see the movie or is repetition to the point of acceptance playing its fatal card? In the case of Legend of the Fist: Return of Chen Zhen, I had seen the trailer several times in front of Ip Man and the sequel. I wasn’t sure if I was anxious for the movie, so much that I really wanted to see Donnie Yen go absolutely crazy with his kicks and amazing martial arts.
The First World War is going on across Europe. The Allied Forces aren’t doing so well. In 1917, one hundred and fifty thousand workers were dispatched by the Chinese government to help the Allied Forces. Each of these workers were given a wristband for identification and the imprint left behind by these markers were symbols of survival. These workers fought and also did manual labor on the lines. We join the story with a mighty blast as we start our story in France.
Chen Zhen (played by Donnie Yen is keeping the other Chinese workers able to perform under pressure as they try to work under these extremely harsh conditions. Soon, the workers bring the ammunition and supplies to the French only to realize that the soldiers are retreating. Germans attack and soon Chen is jumping into action. A Chinese man gets shot and the foundation Chen established has reduced these men to almost nothing.
However, Chen is no ordinary man and soon is able to dispatch the German army with some brilliant fighting skills. They are able to escape with their lives intact. World War I ends, but with no recognition of the Chinese’s efforts by the Allied Powers. Shanghai is divided into pieces by 1925 with the Japanese breathing down the necks and planning invasion of China. Meanwhile at the Casablanca, a happening nightclub ran by Liu Yutian (played by Anthony Wong), business is great despite the war going on outside.
Kiki (played by Shu Qi) sings a song before told by the Japanese army to sing a Japanese tune. This causes the crowd to disperse almost immediately as she starts to sing the sorrowful tale. Hrmmm, that piano player looks awfully familiar as it turns into a world class drinking song. The army is furious but they are calmed down with free drinks. Soon, our piano player Chen Zhen is playing poker with Master Liu. The two retire upstairs and soon join Kiki for drinks.
Liu introduces Zhen as Qi Tianyuan, an identity he took from the war when his friend was killed in action. Kiki, then Liu depart as Zhen sleeps for the night. Next day, we learn that Chen is working with an underground resistance movement that wants to stop the Japanese. We flash forward to the introduction of Colonel Takeshi Chikaraishi (played by Kohata Ryu) who is part of the Japanese Army. Apparently he is not too happy about somebody leaking a dispatch schedule.
More introductions, we meet General Zeng (played by Shawn Yue), and General Zhuo (played by Ma Yue) who are important men in competitive Northeast armies. As the two talk, Chen Zhen outside studies a black mask and suit combo in a shop window. The generals go outside, General Zhuo leaves. Zeng however, finds himself in the middle of an assassination attempt. What exactly will Chen do to thwart the attempt? A Hero will rise upon this night.
Chen Zhen is a popular character in Chinese filmmaking. Bruce Lee played the part in the film Fists of Fury and Donnie Yen also played the part before, in a 1995 television series of the same name. So re-treading to a previous character is a relative cinch for the famous Chinese actor. Without Donnie Yen in this film, truth is it never gets off the ground. He literally makes the film.
Donnie does not have to do much acting either, just go through his amazing martial arts and work his way through the film. The supporting cast is okay with some decent turns by Shu Qi and Huang Bo who plays a police inspector. But this movie lies in the very definition of a popcorn film and that you should leave your brain at the door. One would too, but unfortunately mine stayed awake for certain moments.
Like the heavy dose of Chinese nationalism. Basically if you follow the movie closely, one gets the sense that Chinese are awesome and everybody sucks. The Japanese, British, French, heck there were not any American roles, but if there was one it would probably play out the same way, they suck. It is one of the things that really drags the movie down. Keep Donnie Yen going ninety miles a minute the entire length of the film and it would worked out a lot better.
The video is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen at 1080p resolution. This is actually filmed in Shanghai and the authentic setting does the film a world of good. Color is rich and the detail can be seen easily on the busy streets. Dress and pieces of culture from the time period feel perfectly in place and for at least an hour and a half, we fit right in with the time period. Video is excellent here.
The audio is presented in 5.1 Mandarin DTS-HD Master Audio(English 5.1 DTS-HD, English 2.0 and Mandarin 2.0 also included). I went with the original audio, English subs combo. Dialog is clear and distinct. Sound can be heard from all speakers. Action scenes spring to life and deliver a strong frantic pace to the surrounds. Things are well separated here and pack a wonderful punch. English subs do the job nicely.
- Automatic Trailers: The King of Fighters (hope this one shows up in my queue, I’m a sucker for video game martial art films), Little Big Soldier, Ip Man 2, and The Man From Nowhere
- Theatrical Trailer 2:18: The better trailer of the two, it certainly throws the action in the forefront where it should be.
- International Trailer 1:11: Too short to really tell anything about the movie but it would probably do the job if you were a fan.
- Behind the Scenes: War Zone 7:57: Going over the first main scene, this shows how they worked the battlefield and some of the explosions. Fantastic moves from Donnie Yen all around. He always seems so humble and soft spoken. We interlude with some accordion music and singing before going back to the action. A scary moment comes when Donnie Yen actually twists his knee. But he seems to recover nicely.
- Behind the Scenes: Casablanca 9:34: Next we get a sense of the Casablanca set with some close-ups of Kiki in photos to start us off with. Mostly set pieces are shown so we get a sense of color. Off to singing, and piano playing. Donnie actually can play. And he is quite good. More good stuff with Kiki, she certainly has beauty in spades. Everybody dance! Bits and snippets of more scenes are shown, usually from a different vantage angle which is good to see how others act.
- Behind the Scenes 30:14: These featurettes are similar to the previous ones on the blu-ray but go over the minor scenes such as Tianjin Street, Market Place, Newspaper Office, Japanese Headquarters, Student Movement, and Hongkou Dojo. During the attempt assassination scene, it could be my imagination but it looks like it is really raining. Yep, imagination.
On to Marketplace dancing with Kiki and Chen before one of Kiki’s big dramatic scenes. Real tears kids, real tears. On to the Newspaper office, home of the underground resistance meetings. Here we get to see Yen’s perfect hurricarana again. I think he’s been watching Japanese wrestling. The headquarters of the Japanese army is our next stop. Some tense moments with the Colonel, I don’t think he ever smiles. Explosions! They really trashed that set.
Some Student Movement. It isn’t Kent State or anything but it works. Vegetables and eggs fly. Then back to more demonstration before the infamous bridge scene. Finally, we hit the dojo and home of the last important scene (and a few minor ones during the film). Yep, this Colonel does not smile one bit. How many angles can we watch a crotch punch from? As expected, there was much difficulty when Chen is fighting the umpteen students. Donnie is even getting after the students at times. More fighting demonstrations. Before we go back to the guy who doesn’t smile. Come on, just one. Wait, was that a half-smile? No, probably not as we finish up this section.
- Interviews 49:29 : Featured here are Andrew Lau, Gordon Chan, Donnie Yen, Shu Qi, Anthony Wong, Huang Bo, and Kohata Ryuichi. A great smattering of information here. If you have an hour to kill and don’t mind reading subtitles (unless you are versed in the language), this is a good way to go. Highlights include Lau’s lengthy discussion of the film and characters along with Anthony Wong. Lowlights, Shu Qi is wearing her Japanese uniform. I was hoping for her cabaret outfit. Also, the yelling in the background doesn’t do the interview any favors either. Still waiting for Ryuichi to smile. Alright, let us close this thing out.
Time to put my brain back in and sum this sucker up. Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen is a popcorn flick. Donnie Yen’s high flying martial arts and exciting kicks is the glue that holds this movie together. Sure, Shu Qi or Anthony Wong provide entertaining secondary roles, but Donnie is what keeps us coming back to the dojo every time. The only problem I really had with it was the overuse of Chinese nationalism. It tends to bog things down.
The disc package is excellent. Video and audio are both top notch I felt, as this blu-ray presentation is certain to please any fan with a good set up. The extras are lengthy and contain a multitude of information to go through especially if you like exploration of the various sets found in the movie. I give this movie a solid recommendation for fans of Donnie Yen and for martial arts enthusiasts in general. Yen brings out the Bruce Lee and it will entertain the audience pillar to post.