The Direct to Video Connoisseur

I'm a huge fan of action, horror, sci-fi, and comedy, especially of the Direct to Video variety. In this blog I review some of my favorites and not so favorites, and encourage people to comment and add to the discussion. If you click on an image, it will take you to that post's image page, which includes many more pics from the film and other goodies I couldn't fit in the actual review. For announcements and updates, don't forget to Follow us on Twitter and Like our Facebook page. If you're the director, producer, distributor, etc. of a low-budget feature length film and you'd like to send me a copy to review, you can contact me at dtvconnoisseur[at]yahoo.com. I'd love to check out what you got.

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Friday, July 2, 2010

Jing wu ying xiong aka Fist of Legend (1994)

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This is our second and final Jet Li film of our DTVC Wild Card look at Hong Kong cinema, which I know sounds like not enough, but considering all the great films out there in the genre that we won't make it to in our 12 film series, two movies is fairly substantial. At the very least, I'm sure this won't be the last time we hear from Jet Li.

Fist of Legend is a broader and fully fleshed out remake of the Bruce Lee classic Chinese Connection (Fist of Fury), with Jet Li as a student in Japan called home to Shanghai after his master dies in battle. As tensions mount from the increased Japanese presence in the city prior to World War II, the Japanese Karate school that killed his master starts a conflict with Li's school, which in turn turns on him after he tries to bring his Japanese girlfriend into their fold. He leaves on his own after beating his master's son, the school's new master, in battle. The problem is, with Li out of the picture, who will be able to take the Japanese school's best warrior?

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With the Bruce Lee original a classic simply because he starred in it, this remake had to be better all around, because Jet Li, no matter how awesome, is still no Lee. And that's what happened. The story went from the early 70s completely anti-Japanese resent-fest (and considering how close it still was to WWII, an understandable resent-fest), to a more modern approach with both the Japanese and Chinese guilty of racism and jingoism. Not only that, but this film had more players and more quality talent to support Li, and that in turn made his performance that much more special. Often remakes of classics suck a fat dick-- sorry if I sound bitter, but I've been sickened too many times by what people have done to some real cinematic gems-- so it's refreshing here to see an example where the original is both improved upon, and paid its proper respect.

The difference for me between Bruce Lee's screen presence and Jet Li's, is that Bruce Lee seems to affect the scenes he's not in. This movie was a perfect example. Right away, we get that iconic Jet Li stare after some toolbags at his Japanese school give him a hard time. That stare that tells us, it's time. And boy was it time. When he's not on the screen, though, that's where his influence ends, while with Bruce Lee, in a similar role, we never forget about him. He's always on our minds. I don't want it to sound like Jet Li wasn't amazing in Fist of Legend, because he definitely was; it was more that through how great Li was, I saw even more just how irreplaceable Bruce Lee was.

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This film brings up the differences between Karate and Kung Fu, and how each practitioner of each style thinks the one is better than the other. I had heard this before from another source, but in the commentary to Master of the Flying Guillotine, one of the commentators brought it up again, that all Asian martial arts styles that involve striking come from Kung Fu. That includes Karate, Tae Kwon Do, Muay Thai, you name it. The grappling styles, like jujitsu, developed on their own, but everything else was from Kung Fu. As an American, it's very interesting, because everything we have has been borrowed for the most part and adapted for our own use, so we don't get too uppity when someone comes in and says a tradition or trait originated somewhere else first. We actually embrace that idea-- people who wear hoods or attend Tea Bagger rallies excluded, of course. For either the Chinese or Japanese to be told that a tradition one has associated with a part of their culture for so long actually came from the other would be complete anathema.

To carry that issue further, most Americans, and citizens of the world outside of Asia in general, would have trouble figuring out the differences between the Japanese and Chinese, and that's the central theme upon which this film is based. It's almost a real world version of that Star Trek episode with Frank Gorshin about the people with the black and white faces, but to characterize it like that would be to diminish what are two very distinct and rich cultures. I remember taking some friends to a Tibetan restaurant in Boston, and some of them expecting things like tea served to them in the same way they would at your average American style Chinese restaurant. I'm surprised they didn't ask where the buffet was. I think that's what makes this film so great, is that dual layer: at the same time it's teaching the rest of the world that there are real differences between the Chinese and Japanese, it's then teaching those two people that in the end they're still humans, and should respect each other as equals.

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Finally, do you not love this guy's hair? One of the best non-mullet hairdos we've ever seen here at the DTVC. It's like buzzed and puffy at the same time. Considering this movie had it all to begin with, it didn't need to give us this awesome hair, and it did it anyway. Fist of Legend, going the extra mile for you.

We're talking about another solid Dragon Dynasty edition, though this one doesn't have the featurettes the Tai Chi Master DVD had. Still, well worth your time, so go check it out if you haven't.

For more info: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0110200/

4 comments:

  1. I really liked the blindfold fight. That was creative, it was sort of like a tribute to Bloodsport where Van Damme has to fight Bolo Yeung without his vision, this in my opinion is taking it to the next level. Actually you said a special surprise 1, so technically you're doing lucky 13.

    Actually I reviewed this movie and gave it two stars, I got lots of hatemail, despite the fact I was reviewing just how awful the Miramax version which dubbed scenes and cut out scenes. Another one was The Defender and The Enforcer are other examples. Indeed I explained such, I even included a 3.5 star version review, but I never understood how people didn't read the review since I clearly found it offensive that the original miramax ones were cut, dubbed and trashed artistically.

    Still, I always loved this movie, I actually like it more than The Chinese Connection. Mainly because this one as you said had lots of character development and fight sequences. The other one worked cause of Lee, but there was a lot of downtime where Lee wasn't fighting.

    That said, I like Big Boss, Way Of The Dragon and Enter The Dragon better.

    A Jet Li film though that compare to such would actually be Tai Chi Master. Jet Li is a great action star, Once Upon A Time In China 1-3, Fist Of Legend, Fong Sai Yuk 1-2 and so on are great but just not on the level of Bruce Lee.

    Jackie Chan on the other hand...has made movies that surpass some Lee movies. Mainly Dragons Forever, Police Story and Wheels On Meals.

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  2. Agreed, good movie.

    Speaking of Jackie Chan, he had a new DTV flick at Redbox, called "Shinjuku Incident".

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  3. I can think of many instances where people don't read my reviews or recommend movies I've already done, so I'm not surprised people jumped down your throat for killing the Miramax version of this film (which you were right in doing) because they wanted to be indiganant about something and see their name in a comment box or something, as opposed to actually reading what you wrote and commenting on that, because in that case they'd just have to agree with you, meaning they probably don't need to comment in the first place, and who wants to not comment?

    Yeah, I think Jet Li and Jackie Chan are great action stars, but they also illustrate that next level that Bruce Lee was. It's a hard thing to explain sometimes, because people think if I'm saying Bruce Lee is better than Jackie Chan or Jet Li, I must be somehow saying those two are bad, when I'm not.

    Shinjoku Incident look sinteresting. A serious Jackie Chan.

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  4. Yeah I can definitely see you enjoyng Shinjuku Incident, Another excellent serious Jackie Chan film you should check out is the 2004 film New Police Story,

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