Nov 2, 2010

Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen

Legend of the Fist highlights the status of Donnie Yen's increasingly successful career to a point. Reprising the incredibly popular spirit of Chen Zhen while filling the shoes worn by both Bruce Lee and Jet Li, Donnie Yen's titular interpretation takes place seven years after the events of his own television series Fists of Fury. Set during the Second Sino-Japanese War, the torch of martial art's legend Chen Zhen is in safe hands because as we all know, Donnie Yen isn't just an artist of the body but one that can dramatize damn near any role. So while he may get caught up on the burlesque portrayal of the cruel Japanese or the visually stimulating violence, it's been declared a safe passage which allows for some of the greatest recent escapism to flood through your nostrils and soak your brain in hair-pin mixed martial arts. And for what it's worth, The Return of Chen Zhen houses an indescribable charm, potent and out of place for this historically fantastical oddity.

Beginning abruptly in a war zone, the impoverished Chinese are panicking while attempting to take cover behind sandbags littered across what seems to have resembled a courtyard at one point. While their numbers dwindle and the need for ammunition becomes unbearable, the camera begins to fixate on Donnie Yen and if you didn't know any better, this is the scene to elect him as the hero of our story, Chen Zhen. After losing several of his friends to the faceless Germans nesting in several buildings surrounding them, Chen Zhen impacts a reserve of glandular focus and sprints at a break-neck speed across the battlefield with several blades. Performing various free-running maneuvers while blending a bit of meta-wuxia within his rhythm, he glides and twirls to reach his murderous destination within the base, singlehandedly killing every German with his affable Asiatic prowess. For a fair and default representation of the Germans, Legend of the Fist receives high marks from me for providing both an action spectacle and a display of warfare and not the warped politics behind the veil. This only further incriminates the sensitive pussies who claim that Legend of the Fist contains a sharp racial animosity towards the Japanese yet fails to even acknowledge the cinematic abuse of Germans since the Cinematographe decided to employ counter-propaganda.

These allegations haven't impeded the success or longevity of talk-back concerning Legend of the Fist but I found them peculiar and irrational enough to discuss within my written reflection. Within the elements of Legend of the Fist exists a storyline all too political concerning China's struggle with the Japanese vowing to occupy and control the "weaker" of their yellow brethren. The truth couldn't really be any closer to what is displayed in this film. The never-ending conflict between the Japanese and Chinese has been revisited many times within the years and I've recently finished Iris Chang's chilling documentation of the cruelty the Japanese have perpetrated in The Rape of Nanking. With the fresh ideals of a "better" holocaust in mind, Legend of the Fist doesn't offend or betray anyone with the depiction of the Japanese and if anything at all, serves as a mixed drink to be consumed by damn near anyone, especially after the realization of how diluted the product is in retrospect. The absurdity of these claims reaches a new peak as my tangent switches rails from the incredible choreographed fight scenes with Chen Zhen donning Kato's costume from The Green Hornet to the reverse-engineered understandable resentment of the Japanese by the Chinese. To be blunt, I'm relieved at the absence of the asinine German crowd control that most cliched villainry seems to adopt with doe in their eyes. And seeing as the Eastern film industry has been modeled meticulously after our own, do we not enjoy staring back at the beast?

To jump ship from the strenuous rant I've just exhausted, Legend of the Fist is an accelerated period piece with enough action to entertain even the most nit-picky arthouse squealer as he reorganizes his Criterion collection ritualistically, by spine number or what have you? This recent exploit from the Chinese fascist of action marks a continuing trend of mobilizing even the most stalwart of screenplays. Not to riff on the alternate-history of war and society's low times but it becomes painfully obvious that absolutely no one could have pulled this character off as well as Donnie Yen has in the Return of Chen Zhen. It's predictable, marvelous, bottom-heavy near the climax, and yet not long enough, but I find something new to love about this film with every thought that pops into my head throughout the day, whether it be the hilarious usage of the infamous feral growl that has found itself to be nature's Wilhelm Scream or the brutal race to save as many as the Japanese kill in a race for a country. Certainly not Donnie Yen's best performance but I'm proud to say I cannot say the same for the fight scenes. Call me giddy but I felt this incredible rush of energy throughout each and every frenetic and implausible blow to the merciless Japanese. Return of Chen Zhen marks yet another highly satisfying tale of a one-man army.


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