"Fearless" has been billed as Jet Li's last martial arts epics. Just to clarify things, fans shouldn't worry that Jet Li is giving up roles in action films. In fact, he's got a long-awaited collaboration with Jackie Chan on tap. He's simply saying goodbye to period pieces such as, "Once Upon a Time in China" and "Hero." The main reason Jet Li is putting the genre out to pasture is mainly due to his changing attitude about his films. Li has expressed disappointment that most of his audience tends to focus only on the violence, rather than the philosophical and spiritual aspects of martial arts.
"Fearless" is Li's attempt to bring those aspects to the fore by telling the true story of a famous martial artist from China's past. It's nothing new to Li who played Wong Fei-Hung, who could be considered the Chinese Robin Hood, in the "Once Upon a Time in China" series and folk hero Fong Sai Yuk in two films. In "Fearless", Li plays Huo Yuan-jia who hoped to unite China against foreign influence by forming the Jingwu Sports Federation, an organization that still exists today. Those familiar with Jet Li's work can look at "Fearless" as a kind of prequel to "Fist of Legend", his remake of Bruce Lee's "Chinese Connection." In that film, Li plays a student of Yuan-jia shortly after the events depicted in "Fearless."
Huo Yuan-jia is the son of a famous fighter, who refuses to teach him martial arts. Yuan-jia disobeys him, skipping his studies to secretly train himself. Yuan-jia vows to never be defeated after being beaten up by a bully. Growing up, he becomes the top fighter in the area at the cost of being selfish and arrogant. He surrounds himself with sycophants and fair-weather friends while ignoring his one, true friend, Nong Jin-sun (Dong Yong).
When one of his students is injured by a rival martial artist, Master Chin, Yuan-jia rashly takes revenge and kills him after a brutal fight. In retaliation, Chin's godson murders Yuan-jia's mother and daughter. Distraught, Yuan-jia kills him as well right in front of Chin's wife and daughter. To add insult to injury, he discovers his student was in the wrong.
Hitting rock bottom, Yuan-jia wanders the countryside until he comes across a rice farm. There, he is taken in by a kindly old woman and her blind daughter. It is then that Yuan-jia finally finds inner peace and returns home. But, things have changed. Foreigners walk the streets of the city, while many of the native Chinese dress in Western clothing. When he learns that an American boxer is calling the Chinese, "sick men of the East", Yuan-jia finds a new purpose for his life. Yuan-jia defeats his much larger opponent and begins winning the respect and admiration of his countrymen.
Afraid that Yuan-jia will rally the Chinese against them, the heads of the Foreign Chamber of Commerce propose a challenge that would pit him against the best fighters of their respective countries. Yuan-jia must now defeat a four opponents of varying styles in quick succession.
The story isn't anything to write home about nor is this an attempt at a historically accurate bio-film. In fact, one of Huo Yuan-jia's great grandsons took issue with the film's creative liberties with the facts. I'm sure action fans will be quick to forgive though. Really, the main reason to watch "Fearless" is for all the smash mouth fight scenes. For "Fearless", Li re-teams with master choreographer Yuen Woo-Ping, who has worked on some of Li's best films. "Once Upon a Time in China", "Once Upon a Time in China II", and "Fist of Legend" being some of their best examples. The fights in "Fearless" don't quite match up to those past classics, but are plenty of fun nonetheless.
The filmmakers attempt to take a back to basics approach with the martial arts sequences. Forgoing the use of wirework and special effects, much of the fights were done practically. There is still a smidgeon of CGI mixed in, but it's only used to enhance the action and never overwhelms it.
The video is presented in anamorphic widescreen with an aspect ratio of 2.40:1. The picture is high quality with very little in the way of noticeable flaws or grain.
The audio is presented in the original Mandarin language and an English dubbed track. Both are available in Dolby Digital 5.1 with optional English and Spanish subtitles. All the dialogue comes in clearly and the sound effects are a treat to the ears.
The extras are a quite sparse for this DVD. There's a behind-the-scenes featurette called, Fearless Journey. It runs about 16 minutes and features interviews and clips of the film.
Also included, is a deleted scene with Jet Li fighting Thai kickboxer, Somluck Kamsing. Notably missing is any of the excised footage of Michelle Yeoh. She was to have been involved in a subplot to allow martial arts into the Olympics, but was cut to tighten the overall film.
Jet Li's recent films have been hit or miss. "Fearless" definitely ranks as a hit and is a welcome relief to stinkers like "The One" and "Cradle 2 the Grave." It's also refreshing to see Ronny Yu back to directing a great action flick after toiling on schlock such as, "Bride of Chucky" and "Freddy vs. Jason." If you aren't very familiar with Jet Li's work, "Fearless" acts as a sampling of what he's capable of and is a fine jumping-on point before viewing his more renowned films.