Fearless (2006)

Rating: C+

Dir: Ronnie Yu
Star: Jet Li, Yong Dong, Shido Nakamura, Hee Ching Paw

This was radically recut, with more than 30 minutes removed, including an entire subplot involving Michelle Yeoh. While that makes it tough to criticize, all we can do is go with what has been released, and what we have here is an uneven blend of great action, with just about every martial-arts cliche under the sun. Sickly youth? Check. Estranged best friend? Check. Hero discovers it’s not all about kicking ass? Check. Evil foreign devils? Check, by the score. Li plays Huo Yuanjia, a master of Wushu revered as among the best martial artists of all time, who was an icon in China at a time (early 20th-century) when the country was reviled as the “sick man of Asia”. It tells his story from a weak youth, who has to earn the right to learn to fight, through a cocky champion who loses everything, on to a wiser, kinder guru, albeit one still capable of delivering serious violence.

Often touted as Li’s last martial-arts film, anyone who’s seen War will know that ain’t so – this may be his last martial-arts epic, a different kind of film entirely. Though I’m wondering what the Jet Li/Jackie chan collaboration, The Forbidden Kingdom, is going to be. Anyway, Yuen Wo Ping action choreography is its usual, top-notch self, fluid and imaginative, while Yu knows enough not to engage in the crappy editing favoured by so many Western directors. However, I can’t say I was impressed at all with the storyline, which is pedestrian and uninspiring; maybe as a result of the editing, I never really cared much for Huo. The middle, in particular, drags, as he befriends a blind girl (check!) and plants rice to find his inner self. All I can say, is I really hope the uncut version has 30 minutes more action, and no more fortune-cookie philosophy.