Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen

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Movie review by Neil Sadler

Starring: Donnie Yen, Qi Shu, Shawn Yue, Anthony Wong Chau-Sang, Yasuaki Kurata, Karl Dominik
Director: Andrew Lau

Legend of the Fist comes with its own legend attached. The third major film to feature the lead character of Chen Zhen, Donnie Yen follows in the “fist” prints of Bruce Lee and Jet Li in this role. It is sad then that this film doesn’t really match its ambitions with much substance.

Starting in World War 1, we meet Chen Zhen in the midst of battle when his troops are left stranded and surrounded by the Germans. In a well-choreographed and shot scene, probably the highlight of the film, he single-handedly defeats a troop of soldiers. With deft foot and fist work and some fantastic camera work to highlight this, everything seems in place for this to be a legendary film. These early scenes also set up the camaraderie very well and we get a good sense of the character and the regard in which he is held.

Sadly it’s once the action moves to China, a very obvious mix of studio sets and CGI, that the film loses focus and the promise of the early scenes fails to deliver.

Pitting Chen against the invading Japanese, the story became confused by lots of crossing and double crossing. As the action progresses it becomes difficult to tell who is fighting against whom. On the whole, the costumes and colours are extremely muted and this doesn’t help the clarity of story. So many of the costumes looked alike I realised I had confused one character with another for half the story. Obviously none of this is helped by the fact that the film is in Mandarin and I had to read subtitles as well as watch the action, but I have not found this to be a problem in other similar films. The film seems to assume some knowledge not only of the legend, but also of Chinese history for this period.

At the very least you expect a Kung Fu movie to have great actions scenes. Again I was a bit disappointed. There is little doubt that Donnie Yen is a skilled fighter but with a few exceptions you don’t really get to see him at his best here. Too often the action is so fast it blurs and the camera rarely focuses on the best bits of the action. If you compare the fight scene in the dojo here with the bar fight in KILL BILL PART 1, this pales in comparison and I am sure this does not reflect the skills of Yen versus Uma Thurman. Yen is an exciting fighter and these types of films certainly don’t hold back on the bone crunching violence, but too often this takes focus away from the actual skills. The Dojo scene, so famous in FISTS OF FURY with Bruce Lee, has far less impact here.

Overall, this feels like a wasted opportunity and is unlikely to be the crossover hit that the previous versions of this story were.

2 out of 6 stars