- Rated PG-13
- Buy the BD
All photos © Universal
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
f what Jet Li says is true, “Fearless” marks the last time that the action star will appear in a martial arts film. Frankly, I find it difficult to believe that he’s willing to throw in the towel for a chance at a serious acting career (especially with rumors of Li and Jackie Chan teaming up in the future). I mean, hasn’t he paid attention to what’s happened with other action stars in the past? Arnold Schwarzenegger publicly embarrassed himself in “Jingle All the Way.” Sylvester Stallone was an absolute train wreck in “Oscar.” Vin Diesel ruined his career with “The Pacifer.” Do you see a pattern forming here? Still, if Li’s decision is sincere, then he’s chosen the wrong time to punch out. “Fearless” is hardly an impressive swan song, due mostly to a melodramatic tale that steals the lightning out of a carefully crafted bottle of action.
Recounting the life story of legendary Chinese martial artist Huo Yuanjia (Li), the film begins in 1910 as the fighter takes place in a tournament meant to belittle the country of China. Pitted against four opponents from different parts of the world, Huo dispatches the first three with ease, but just as he’s about to meet the final contender, Anno Tanaka (Shido Nakamura) from Japan, the film flashes back 30 years to show Huo’s slow rise to fame. The son of a local legend (Collin Chou), Huo is not allowed to train in the martial art of wushu for fear that his asthma will hold him back, but when he sees his father defeated by the leader of a rival family, he vows that the family name will never lose another fight as long as he lives.
Several years later, Huo has grown to become the most prominent fighter in his area, but after a heated challenge ends in the death of an opponent, Huo returns home to discover his mother and daughter murdered. Unable to deal with the loss of his family, Huo leaves town, only to wind half-dead and taken in by a group of peasants who live in the mountains. Unfortunately, this is where the film begins to border on “The Last Samurai” territory, with Li experiencing a sort of rebirth while at the same time falling in love with his hostess, a blind girl named Moon (Betty Sun).
There’s so much more story to discuss (like how he formed the Jinwu Sports Federation, not to mention the conclusion of the opening tournament), but for the sake of the reader, it’s probably best left at that. Oddly enough, the movie is being marketed as a big martial arts flick, but while there are plenty of exciting action sequences to enjoy, “Fearless” is more of a sappy biopic than anything else. It’s almost as if Li was trying to recoup the brilliance of Zhang Yimou’s “Hero” by producing an epic of his own. Instead, it resembles the kind of low-budget wushu films that first catapulted Li into the spotlight. This may be good news for longtime fans of the action star, but for everyone else, it’s just one giant disappointment.
Director's Cut Blu-Ray Review:
What better way to celebrate a disappointing film than with a disappointing Blu-ray release? Sure, you get three versions of the movie – the original theatrical cut, an unrated version, and a director’s cut – but the only actual extra is a 16-minute making-of featurette (“Fearless Journey”) that focuses more on Jet Li’s decision to retire from martial arts films than the actual production. And to add insult to injury, the seven-minute deleted scene that was included as part of the film’s recent re-release on DVD is nowhere to be found. Gee, thanks a bunch Universal.