The lack of brilliant kung fu sequences is particularly surprising considering the pedigree of everyone involved. Ronny Yu may not be Zhang Yimou or even John Woo, but he’s been making kung fu flicks since the ‘70s, including classics like The Bride with White Hair. As for fight choreography, you don’t get better than Yuen Wo-Ping (The Matrix, Kung Fu Hustle), and let’s not forget this is Jet Li we’re talking about.
And yet, apart from one or two flashes of inspiration (a frantic battle on a 50 foot high wooden deck for instance), there is little we haven’t seen done before, and better. The fights lack the fluidity of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the epic grandeur of Hero and the raw intensity of Unleashed. As a whole they are too stagy and staccato, with Yu and Wo-Ping resorting to slow-mo and computer manipulation far too often.
As for the story, it is strictly boilerplate stuff. Showing little concern for historical accuracy, the screenwriters have simply squeezed a real person’s life into a standard heroic mould and trimmed of the inconvenient bits. We’ve seen this story literally thousands of times before, and the filmmakers lack the talent to make us see why this version is worth spending our time on.
The weak story might not be so obvious if the acting was stronger, but it is uniformly average. Jet Li is particularly uninspiring, moving almost robotically between emotions and attitudes. The fact that he is giving up martial arts movies seems to indicate that he thinks of himself as a serious actor, but Fearless doesn’t bode well for the rest of his career.
Perversely the film’s most enjoyable and memorable sequences have nothing to do with either wushu or history. When Li’s character flees to the mountains, losing himself in the bucolic peace of a village of rice farmers, we get a taste of the simple beauty and existential calm that the Chinese countryside, and culture, is so famous for. While we luxuriate alongside Li, we begin to hope he doesn’t go back to that other movie, the one with all the pompous chest beating and predictable violence.
- Alistair Fairweather
Jet Li's "last movie" is half Kung Fu flick and half historical epic. The problem is that neither half is very compelling.
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