Theatrical Review: LEGEND OF THE FIST: THE RETURN OF CHEN ZHEN
From the start, LEGEND OF THE FIST: THE RETURN OF CHEN ZHEN makes it obvious that this isn't your standard martial arts film. It's not your standard war film either. In what is one of the greatest opening action sequences in any film ever (and if you really have to be sold, check out that opening courtesy of our friends over at Film School Rejects), this film lets you know from the start that what you will get is a kick-ass Donnie Yen film with some genuinely emotionally, heartfelt performances and a unique take on a type of story that you may very well have seen before.
Reprising the role of Chen Zhen made famous by Bruce Lee in the film FIST OF FURY, Donnie Yen takes on a role that's going to be different from what we may used to be seeing out of him, but he gets to flex some acting muscles in this film.
After the death of his teacher in FIST OF FURY, Chen Zhen (Donnie Yen) joined the Allies in the fight against the Germans while they were invading France. During an escape attempt, in what culminates in a truly spectacular opening sequence, one of Chen's comrades, Qi Tianyuan is killed, and it appeared that Chen was as well. After arriving back in Shanghai and having taken the identity of Qi Tianyuan, Chen then joins an underground resistance aimed at stopping the Japanese Empire from invading China. He befriends Liu Yutian, a businessman and owner of a nightclub frequented by foreign dignitaries, while also being romantically linked to Kiki (Qi Shu), a nightclub singer.
One night, Chen discovers that the Japanese are planning to assassinate General Zeng, the son of a northern warlord, and push the blame to General Zhuo, a rival warlord. Zeng's death will spark a civil war between the two warlords and aid the subsequent Japanese invasion. Chen disguises himself as a masked superhero and defeats the assassins in yet another fantastic action sequence and saves Zeng. This causes Japan to culminate a "kill list" that ultimately ends up becoming public further igniting the tension between Japanese and Chinese citizens.
What stands out about this movie is that early on, there are two fantastic action sequences, but there isn't as much action beyond that as one might expect. There is one scene in particular, however, that is on par with other great assassination montages from other classic films, combined with our masked hero trying his hardest to save as many as he can. Thankfully, writer Gordan Chan and director Wai-keung Lau have crafted a film with a great story. The environment created here is a great one that will remind the viewer of some of the greatest action and gangster films that take place during the '20s.
The performances pack an emotional punch as well. Donnie Yen is given a chance here to play a character that has some really intense internal conflicts going on and he shoulders that burden with ease, which is what Donnie Yen does best. Playing the sly, street savvy hero is a welcome change of pace for an actor like Yen. Usually his characters are intimidating from the get-go, or sometimes they aren't intimidating at all like in the IP MAN films, but here, he's right in the gray area of someone who seems innocent enough, yet is fully capable of doing some bad things to some bad people. Qi Shu, (who should be familiar to Jason Statham fans of THE TRANSPORTER) does a wonderful job here as the seemingly innocent lounge singer who just may be hiding a trick or two up her sleeves. The other minor characters who serve to provide Chen Zhen's motivations do more than hold their own.
LEGEND OF THE FIST: THE RETURN OF CHEN ZHEN may be the first martial arts film you come across in theaters this year, and it's not a bad way to kick off the years martial arts films. A truly kick-ass opening, combined with a good story enhanced by some good performances, this is a movie that will definitely be pleasing to those who are already Donnie Yen fans, but hopefully will open the door up to new ones that will appreciate this, as well as his other works.