Sunday, 16 November 2014

Legend of the Fist (4½ Stars)

Chen Zhen lives!

Yes, we all know that Chen Zhen died in the original film, "Fist of Fury", made in 1972 and starring Bruce Lee as Chen Zhen. In the 1994 remake, renamed "Fist of Legend", which starred Jet Li as Chen Zhen, he is shown to survive at the end by faking his death. It would have been easy for his survival to be explained by "Legend of the Fist", made in 2010, being a continuation of the remake. Instead of this it's clear that it's a sequel of the 1972 film, and his survival is unexplained.

Why is it so important that this is a sequel to "Fist of Fury", not "Fist of Legend"? The two films, while telling the same story, have very different messages. "Fist of Fury" (1972) portrayed the Japanese as monsters who were inflicting misery on the Chinese people, while "Fist of Legend" (1994) was much more conciliatory, showing that the Japanese are not all bad. "Legend of the Fist" (2010) returns to a hardline all-Japanese-are-evil attitude. It's a feast for Chinese nationalism. I don't think this is a coincidence. It shows the ebb and flow of Chinese attitudes over a 40-year-period. I intend to watch "Fist of Fury" and "Fist of Legend" back to back later this month, so I might go into the subject in more detail.

Now to "Legend of the Fist". It begins in 1917, a few years after Chen Zhen's supposed death. Together with a group of friends he is in Europe helping defend France against Germany. His best friend, Qi Tianyuan, is killed in action. Chen Zhen adopts his friend's identity when he returns to China. In 1925 he arrives in Shanghai, a city that has been carved up into a Japanese zone, a British zone and a Chinese zone. Even in the Chinese zone Japanese soldiers swagger around like bullies, not afraid to kill anyone who speaks out against them. Chen Zhen dons a mask and becomes the Masked Avenger, a costumed hero who puts fear into the hearts of the Japanese.

If you haven't yet seen the film, don't be put off by the image of a Chinese super-hero. This isn't a fantasy story, it's very realistic in its portrayal of life on the streets in a country in the grip of anarchy. There is no reliance on wires for the fight scenes, so we don't see any supernatural floating as in films like "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and "Hero". The film doesn't make any attempt to rewrite history. We all know that within a few years Japan overran all of China, so Chen Zhen's victories are only small wins for China on the way to the final defeat.

I'll probably watch more Chinese films over the next few weeks. This is a good place to start.

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