Fearless (15)

ANDREW CLARKE Spectacular and action-packed morality tale which will have martial arts fans wide-eyed in wonderment at the fight scenes being unleashed on screen.


While not having the colour or the lyrical romanticism of Crouching Tiger, Hero or House of the Flying Daggers, Fearless is still a spectacular and action-packed morality tale which will have martial arts fans wide-eyed in wonderment at the fight scenes being unleashed on screen.

This has been proclaimed as Jet Li's farewell to the martial arts genre and as such serves as a fitting departure in a largely true story of a man whose life is destroyed by all-consuming ambition and terrible pride.

Whereas other recent box office martial arts successes have been colourful period romps, this film has a darker edge to it as indicated by the director's colour palette which is largely dominated by earth colours - fawns, browns and greys.

Set over a period of 40 years from 1880s to the 1920s, Jet Li plays Huo Yuanjia, a young man who has grown up overshadowed by his martial arts father (Collin Chou), as a result he has grown up arrogant and headstrong.

He seeks to gain respect by becoming the local martial arts champion and recklessly challenges all comers.

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He defeats all rivals bar one. He leads the Chinese version of the champagne lifestyle and has a huge following of sycophantic disciples eager to latch onto his luxurious coat tails rather than submit to the discipline that devotion to the martial arts demands.

A misunderstanding leads to a spectacular nightclub brawl between Huo and his one remaining rival. During the course this fight Huo is badly injured and loses his best friend.

Reprisals mean that his life in the city is destroyed.

He walks away broken in body and spirit. He turns his back on his old life and wanders through the countryside until he collapses on the outskirts of a poor farming community. A young, blind girl nurses him back to health and he earns his keep planting rice and harvesting the resultant crop and just being one of the community members.

Having been taught humility and the value of work, Huo returns to the city to start anew - only to find that the West has taken over Chinese society. With a brash American taunting locals about being the strongest, fastest, toughest fighter, Huo decides to reclaim the title of Champion not for himself but for his people.

So director Ronny Yu restages the 1910 showcase contest featuring Hercules O'Brien and the Japanese master (Nakamura Shidou).

The film is fast-paced, visual feast as you would expect but is given extra depth by the fact that this is presented as a morality tale which is loosely based on fact. The ending is also surprising which adds to the feel that this is more than your average stunt-filled action film.

This is a film with some thought behind it and yet isn't afraid to just cut loose and dazzle with some amazing fight sequences. Yu also manages to conjure up the look and feel of China as a country on the cusp of change - a nation which is opening up to the outside world and ready to accept new influences - not always for the good.

Thoughtful and engaging stuff.