What They Say:
From the ashes of war a hero will rise.
In 1920s China, the nation is divided by infighting. Japan has become the most powerful force in Asia, taking over Northern Shanghai. With the city torn in half by international conflict, the popular nightclub “Casablanca’ has become a hotbed of spies, mobsters, English officials and the Japanese military – all looking to gain control of the country, with little regard for what happens to its citizens.
Into this den of intrigue enters Chen Zen, once played by Bruce Lee in Fist of Fury and Jet Li in Fist of Legend. Chen Zhen (Donnie Yen), has returned to China after fighting alongside the Allied forces in Europe, bringing some dark secrets from his past along with him. During the day, he’s known as “Ku”, and appears to be just another wealthy playboy. but at night, he takes to the street as a masked warrior, determined to subvert the Japanese invasion while becoming entangled with the sultry Kiki (Shu Qi), who has a dangerous secret of her own. When his past catches up to him, Zhen is faced with near impossible odds – but his skills are formidable, and he’s up to the challenge.
Combining the best of today’s martial arts and superhero action with the classic spy thriller of the past (and a healthy dose of film noir on top), Legend of the Fist is the rare action film that truly gives the audience something they’ve never see before.
For the release of the Collector’s Edition of the title the audio tracks include English and Mandarin 2.0 and 5.1 options. For the purpose of this review the Mandarin 5.1 track was used and it is a very solid track free from dropouts or distortion. The dialogue is primarily center speaker driven though the track makes use of the other speakers for directionality with side dialogue and effects as well as general ambiance to sell what the screen has on it and add a perceived depth in doing so.
The video is presented in its 16:9 widescreen format but isn’t quite as fortunate as the audio in quality as there are a number of issues present. Chief among the distractions are the occasional screen jitters which cause the whole picture to shake-they aren’t omnipresent but they are around often enough to be rather annoying. Also present are noise, dot crawl, grain, occasional print pops and some aliasing thought most of these are far less annoying than the jitters. The film does handle colors and blacks though in a solid manner and the action comes off well even in the fastest scenes. This is particularly helpful as the film traverses the extremes of some dark and gloomy areas as well as the outstandingly elaborate and bright Casablanca set.
The release comes packaged in a two disc DVD case with a hub on either side of the case. The front cover features Donnie Yen poised in a martial arts stance while wearing the white dress uniform from his martial arts school and bearing battle scars on his sides as well as hands. The cover is mostly white beyond that with the exception of the title, tag line and director listed in black while the two stars are listed in red near the top of the cover with a black bar with white script proclaiming it to be the Collector’s Edition at the very top. The spine is a solid black color with the title in white in both English and Chinese standing out well along with Well Go’s logo at the bottom. The back features an image of Yen in the Masked Warrior outfit taken from the film as one can see the rain in the image as the DVD’s copy is listed to the left of him and the extras listed in a small gold box to the right. Below this are the feature’s production credits with four stills from the film just under them.
Disc one is a mostly black color with the English title in white on the top right while the Chinese title runs through the center in a grey tone. Disc two reverses the white and black colors of disc one with the disc being white and the English being black though the Chinese logo remains grey. The release also contains an insert that uses the DVD cover image on one side with production credits at the bottom while the other side has Yen performing a flying kick from a scene in the movie at the top half. Underneath him on the left are the same four stills from the back of the DVD cover though in a different size and to the right of that a list of the chapter stops. The release also comes with a slipcover mirroring the DVD cover though it adds a slightly raised imprint with glossy ink to highlight the stars names, title and the buttons on Yen uniform on the front, the title on the sides and the Masked Warrior on the back.
The main menu of disc one features an image on the left of the screen of the Masked Warrior standing tall on a railing of a tallish tower with ominous skies behind him as a dramatic and rousing instrumental theme plays in the background. On the right imposed over the clouds scenes from the feature flash past in rapid succession. The bottom right side has the movie’s title just above the selectable options spread horizontally at the bottom. The scene select menu uses an image from the feature of the Masked Warrior fighting in the rain as he dropkicks an opponent as well as using an image of the Masked Warrior in fighting stance in the foreground in the forefront. The middle of the screen features five stills used as representations of the chapter stops and the one that is currently highlighted is indicated by a red line that surrounds the box while the option for advancing chapter stops or going to the main menu is at the bottom of the screen. The dramatic theme from the main menu screen makes a reappearance here as well to help set the mood. The audio select screen uses a stunning shot of the marquee of the Casablanca in all its bright, colorful light bulbs and neon glory on the right as a shot of the moon barely visible through some dark clouds can be seen on the left with the audio options laid in white over the clouds. The extras menu uses a scene of the Chinese workers as they run carrying their supply crates on the front lines of WWI.
The main menu for the second disc uses the image of the Masked Warrior standing on the tower from the first disc though it is placed more in the center of the screen as an image of Yen in his white uniform as he is standing straight is located on the far right of the screen while an image of him fighting can be made out on the left among the clouds. The title is present on the left side with the two selectable options under it as the theme from the main menu of disc one plays again. The behind the scenes menu uses an image of Yen doing a flying kick from the climax of the picture as its background. The options are listed on the left side of the screen though the pictures used for them selections alternate between the left and right side of the column. The interview screen features an image of the Masked Warrior fighting off a small group in the rain as the selectable interviews are stacked on the left hand side and again alternate left and right of the column the small pictures of the interviewee. The current menu selection featured is shown by a red line under it on both discs and in the case where pictures are available that is highlighted in red as well. The menu is quick to respond to changes in selection as well as implementing the chosen selection.
The extras present on the Collector’s Edition set are the Mandarin audio track, an international and original theatrical trailer, a pair of behind the scenes short features from the battlefield and the nightclub on disc one and six more behind the scenes shorts as well as seven interviews on disc 2.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The early years of the twentieth century were hard on China in general and particularly hard on one of its citizens, Chen Zhen. Chen fought to avenge his fallen master and was believed to have been killed in the deciding conflict for vengeance. What few know is that Chen actually survived the duel but found himself in an untenable position of being unable to stay in his beloved Shanghai and so he joins with many of his country men who are sent to help the allies in the first World War. The Chinese on the front line though seem to be forgotten in general and this skirmish in particular as the French soldiers retreat without telling the Chinese who were supporting them, leaving a small group to fend for themselves. Luckily for the men Chen is part of the group and he uses his superior skills with martial arts and a knife to take out the German forces with some help though he suffers the loss of his friend Qi Tianyuan during the fight. When the war ends Chen is back in the position of not being able to return home because of his past- but Qi Tianyuan can and will.
With the fighting over Chen as Qi returns to Shanghai to find that the allies have forgotten China again. As America basks in the glow of the Roaring Twenties and has retreated into an isolationist position with regard to foreign policy and the other countries being war weary no one has the desire to confront the Japanese Imperial Army that has started its invasion of China. The tenuous situation is played out in Shanghai, particularly in a nightclub called Casablanca. In this nightclub dignitaries of various nationalities such as Chinese, Japanese, British and Americans gather though the not so subtle tension that is present is almost palpable among them. Into this precocious balancing act walks a playboy who gives his name as Qi and who through his personality manages to become a partner in the club when he impresses the owner. Chen will use his role there to attempt to gather information on the Japanese and provide cover for his group of resistance fighters as he and some like minded Chinese loyalists make plans to help get the country to rise up against the Japanese.
Qi isn’t the only alias that Chen will take on however when he finds out about a Japanese plot to perform an assassination on a prominent warlord’s son and frame another warlord to split the Northern and Southern leaders and create the havoc of a civil war. As Chen arrives at the location for the attempt he notices a theater that is playing a movie about the hero Masked Warrior that has a mannequin in the window decked out with a full Masked Warrior outfit. When the Japanese make their move the Masked Warrior comes flying in to save the day and foil the Japanese plans. This victory turns out to be a temporary thing though as the Japanese commander, Chikaraishi Takeshi, doesn’t fly into a rage but rather accepts that surprises are part of any assassination attempt starts to draw new plans-plans which include discovering who the Masked Warrior is. To that end Takeshi has a surprise ace in the hole that is far closer to Chen then he, or the ace card even suspect. As the Takeshi gets new orders from Japan to kill a large number of prominent people he sets a new plan in motion that will have the names leaked to flush out the Masked Warrior as well as anyone who is part of his support group as they attempt to save the targeted people’s lives. With time running out as the assassinations rise Chen will begin a mad race to try to foil the plan though the price for his loyalty to country may carry a staggering personal cost.
Legend of the Fist starts almost immediately with some big action and continues to carry on that pace and sense of urgency from there. Most scenes that do not feature action are the kind of Machiavellian plotting and counter plotting one would expect to see in a political thriller so even when the action isn’t upfront and in your face the story is often proceeding in a more subtle but no less dangerous procession of moves and countermoves as the small band of Chinese citizens plan to resist the Japanese occupation of Shanghai and as the Japanese army in China start to make their moves to help prepare for the invasion of China as a whole. Inside this framework a story of love, loss, friendships and betrayals will be told as one man fights to make a difference and learns that possibly the most dangerous thing a hero can ever do is operate under the assumption that he is smarter and more clever than his enemy. There is also a personal story playing out between two of the characters that dates back to the TV series which both adds a little depth but also feels just a bit cliché and unneeded given the circumstances. The lack of knowing the TV series build up of characters is largely the biggest loss in this film as events happen to characters that likely were introduced there but get scant attention in the feature. This leads to a lack of the emotional gut punch the scenes were likely intended to have due to the unfamiliarity with the characters since the movie doesn’t try very hard to connect them and the audience.
Legend of the Fist is a melting pot mix of machination combined with superhero style exploits that boils over in a delicious mix of action and intrigue. While the film is a sequel to a TV series the effectiveness of the story is not hampered much by watching this film as a standalone as the motives and major consequences stand largely on their own. Hollywood would be wise to look at this picture and analyze how to tell a story of both personal and country wide impact with action, style and smarts to help improve some of their lackluster attempts in the masked hero genera.
Mandarin 2.0 Language, Mandarin 5.1 Language, English 2.0 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Making Of, Interviews
Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: A-
Video Grade: B-
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: A
Released By: Well Go USA
Release Date: June 14th, 2011
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Samsung 50″ Plasma HDTV, Denon AVR-790 Receiver with 5.1 Sony Surround Sound Speakers, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080.