Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Fearless (5 Stars)

Only weak people will show their power through violence.

I first saw "Fearless" four years ago, but today is the first time I've had a chance to see the Director's Cut. If you haven't seen the film yet, this is the only version you should consider watching. It's 40 minutes longer, and the additional scenes add greatly to the film's atmosphere. "Director's Cut" is a very vague expression anyway, meaning something different every time. In this case the Director's Cut is the original version as created by the magnificent director Ronny Yu. The studios told him that 140 minutes was too long, so he had to go back and make cuts. Many Director's Cuts are just the original film, padded out by adding deleted scenes that weren't good enough to be included in the first place. The Director's Cut of "Fearless" is perfect, nothing is out of place, it's what we should have seen in the cinemas in the first place.

Interestingly, Michelle Yeoh's scenes were completely removed from the theatrical version. Why? Her beautiful, elegant performances lift the quality of any film. It's not just a matter of her being a good actress. Whether she plays a modern or an ancient character, she has a dignity about her persona, a radiance that makes people respect her.

"Fearless" was advertised as Jet Li's last martial arts epic. I'm not sure what was meant by that. Does it mean that he would no longer fight in his films, or that he would no longer star in historical films? Maybe the answer to this question can be found in obscure Chinese interviews. It could be that he feels he's too old to fight. Tell that to Jackie Chan.

The film is the true story of Huo Yuanjia, from 1900 to 1910, taking place at the end of the Qing Dynasty in Tianjin and Shanghai. He begins his life determined to be the fighting champion of Tianjin at all costs. After the murder of his mother and daughter he goes into exile and spends seven years working in the rice fields, leading him to reassess his life. He returns to Tianjin as a more spiritual man.

One thing that stands out is the balanced portrayal of the Japanese. As in "Fist of Legend", not all Japanese are bad. The Japanese ambassador is evil, but the Japanese karate champion is an honourable man. This might sound obvious to most of my readers, but they should remember that anti-Japanese propaganda is usual in Chinese films, especially when the story takes place in the first half of the 20th Century.

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