Review: LEGEND OF THE FIST: THE RETURN OF CHEN ZHEN 夜行俠陳真 (2010) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Tuesday, 19 October 2010



The movie is actually a continuation of the 1995's hugely popular TV series, FIST OF FURY where we last left off with Chen Zhen (Donnie Yen) being gunned down by a band of Japanese soldiers after avenging his teacher, Huo Yuanjia. Everyone presume he's already died but under (unexplained) circumstances, he has somewhat survived and been laying low ever since.

REVIEW: At the beginning of the movie, we learn that Chen and other Chinese labourers are fighting alongside the French in 1917 by carrying ammunition boxes. After witnessing most of his fellow labourers injured and died, he makes a lightning-quick moves, running and leaping in parkour-style and single-handled takes down a small band of German soldiers with knife and fisticuffs. No doubt the opening scene itself worth the price of admission, and certainly one of the most exhilarating action set pieces ever choreographed. At this point, Donnie Yen has simply outdone himself as a remarkable martial art superstar.

Too bad once the movie shifts to the different time frame, circa 1925 in Shanghai, everything goes unexpectedly downhill from here. Chen -- or Qi Tianyuan is now hiding behind a fake moustache as an entrepreneur and occasional pianist at Casablanca nightclub, owned by Liu Yiutian (Anthony Wong) who immediately welcomes him as friend and business partner. At the same time, he also lay eyes on the club's most popular singer/hostess, Kiki (Shu Qi). Not long after, he is pursuing a romantic relationship with her, but he doesn't know that Kiki is actually a spy and a Captain in the Japanese army working for General Chikarishi (Ryuichi Kohata), who also happened to be the new leader of the Honkou Dojo. Part of Kiki's job is to spy against Qi Tianyuan, while keeping an eye on potential British rabble-rousers as well as Vivian (Huo Siyan), girlfriend to General Zeng (Shawn Yue). When Japanese assassins begin targeting Chinese and British nationals on a widely announced "death list", Chen moonlights as a superhero by donning a black mask and saves the day on behalf of an underground network of Chinese spies and resistance fighters.

At the first glance, the heavily-anticipated LEGEND OF THE FIST: THE RETURN OF CHEN ZHEN looks like a surefire winner -- especially the movie is boosted with a star-studded cast including Donnie Yen, Anthony Wong and Shu Qi, director Andrew Lau and writer Gordon Chan. What's more, the filmmakers made a bold and somewhat inventive decision to offer more than just a rehash of Bruce Lee's 1972 martial-art classic, FIST OF FURY -- by crafting an all-new sequel and made the legendary Chen Zhen character as a masked superhero as well. All this does sound great on paper, but unfortunately, what could have been a modern classic-in-the-making turns out to be shockingly dull in almost all department.

Gordon Chan, Cheung Chi-Sing, Lui Koon-Nam and Frankie Tam's meaty screenplay is no doubt very ambitious but it's a terrible shame that despite the would-be credibility of director Andrew Lau, the movie is bogged down by uneven pacing, patchy and unfocused storytelling and long-winded expositions. The middle part of the movie is especially a letdown and surprisingly tedious, with too many plots squeezed one after another until there's little room for proper development. Gordon Chan, who once wrote and directed the 1994's FIST OF LEGEND (one of Jet Li's best action movies of all-time), should have opted for straightforward approach instead.

While the story leaves little to be desired for, the same cannot be said with the subsequent action sequences as well. After the groundbreaking action-packed opening scene, it's really surprising that the rest of Donnie Yen's martial art choreography (especially the one when he dons the all-black superhero costume) is lacklustre and frequently ruined by Andrew Lau's shaky camerawork. Unlike, say, Wilson Yip who directed some of Donnie Yen's best action movies in recent years, Lau eschews wide angle composition in favour for a jerky shot -- all flashy movement but little kinetic flair in the display. The only exception for Lau's flashy cinematography works best for its lovingly-detailed Shanghai of the 1920s. And if anyone is holding their breath for a would-be classic showdown will be sorely disappointed by short-lived and unimaginative excitement displayed during Chen Zhen's one-man battle against a large group of dojo fighters, and of course General Chikarishi who is easily beaten down to a pulp.

The cast is a mixed bag, with Donnie Yen's multifaceted role as both tough fighter and suave gentleman proves to be too much for him to handle properly. He's an equal bore when he requires to act romantic, especially his many scenes with Shu Qi but remains an engaging presence once in an action mode. Anthony Wong and Shu Qi does their best with their underwritten roles, while Huang Bo provides some decent comic relief as the bumbling Inspector Huang.

LEGEND OF THE FIST: THE RETURN OF CHEN ZHEN is a colossal misfire that could have seen better days. One of the most disappointing Hong Kong movie blockbusters of the year.

After a promising start, LEGEND OF THE FIST: THE RETURN OF CHEN ZHEN quickly nosedives with patchy storytelling and disappointing action scenes.

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