Legend of the Fist

The Return of Chen Zhen

 

Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen

Collector’s Edition

Screenplay by Cheung Chi-sing, Gordon Chan, Lui Koon-nam & Frankie Tam

Cinematography by Andrew Lau & Ng Man-Ching

Action Direction by Donnie Yen

Produced by Andrew Lau and Gordon Chan

Directed by Andrew Lau

2010


Cast:

Donnie Yen

Shu Qi

Kohata Ryuichi

Anthony Wong

Huang Bo

Shawn Yue

Huo Si-yan

Zhou Yang

Kurata Yasuaki


Studio:

Theatrical: Basic Pictures

Video: Well Go (U.S.)


Video:

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

Codec: AVC

Disc Size: BD-50

Runtime: 106 minutes

Chapters: 19

Region: A


Audio:

Mandarin DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Mandarin Dolby Digital 2.0

English Dolby Digital 2.0


Subtitles:

Feature & Bonus: English


Extras (BRD):

Behind the Scenes (ca. 17.5 minutes)

Theatrical & International Trailers

Promotional Trailers


Extras (DVD):

Behind the Scenes (ca. 30 minutes)

Talent Interviews (ca. 50 minutes)


Presentation:

Amaray Blu-ray locking case w/ slipcover

BRD x 1 + DVD x 1

Release Date: June 14, 2011



Introduction

Just months after its U.S. theatrical release (nine months after its debut in Hong Kong), Well Go follows its Blu-ray of Ip Man 2 with another Donnie Yen martial arts wowser, Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen, a title that may seem to the uninitiated as a bit much, but makes perfect sense as we shall see.


     


Is it my imagination, or are China and Japan are still at war?  Movies like Ip Man and now Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen  are nothing like the cold war films from England and the U.S. that pitted the West against the Soviet Union.  For China, Japan is not merely a convenient antagonist against which to wave a patriotic and courageous flag.  No.  Imperial Japan is shown in these movies to be merciless oppressors, bloodthirsty victimizers of men, women and children.  Today’s well-funded Hong Kong producers appear to see WWII vintage Japan as the vampires of the East, locusts that lay waste to everything in their path.  So removed from humanity are they that it’s a little hard to tell if the Chinese still hold profound grievances for the rape of their country or if the see the Japanese as comic book fodder for their heroes to beat the bloody shit out of.


The Chinese are often successful in their blend of comedy and bloody mayhem, especially in the gangster films of Johnnie To.  Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen, on the other hand, loses its way time and again, not so much complex as  a kind of goulash, with the innocent dying gruesome deaths alternating with noirish romance, drunken camaraderie, and comic book effects and laughs.  It’s hard to see this movie as having been directed by the man who gave us the subtle and layered Infernal Affairs.


     


But perhaps I misunderstand his movie altogether.  The English title should give us some clues.  Chen Zhen is a heroic character in Hong Kong film, notably “Fist of Fury” (Bruce Lee), “Fist of Legend” (Jet Li) and the 1995 Hong Kong TV series starring Donnie Yen.  But none of those were mined for parody and homage so deliberately as in Andrew Lau’s new film.


Perhaps Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen is  meant to be understood of the same genre as Kill Bill.  There are, after all, some very funny bits here - from cowardly policemen, to Donnie Yen’s Road Runner dodging of machine gun fire, to his donning of a comic book mask and cape that he liberates from a store window mannequin, to his riotous imitation of Bruce Lee’s squealing postures.  You might even find his mustache smileworthy.  I rather liked it - took years off him, probably with the help of some judicious digital scrubbing.


     


The Movie: 6

There is a plot in there somewhere, possibly several.  The story starts in WWI France where  Chinese are imported to help out with the war effort on the side of France and England.  Needless to say, their help is never given its due despite the heroic actions of Chen Zhen (Donnie Yen).  Cut to a few years later in Shanghai where Liu Yutian (Anthony Wong) owns a nightclub named, appropriately enough “Casablanca” (the more I think of it, I suspect this movie is supposed to be a comedy).  His lead singer, Kiki (Shu Qi), is the femme fatale of the piece.  She oozes sex, opiates and danger.  And look who’s playing the piano: it’s Chen Zhen, handsomely suited and mustachioed, now calling himself Qi Tianyuan (the name of a fallen comrade).   Like Rick’s, Liu’s Casablanca caters to businessmen, mobsters and military officers on all sides of this politically intense and obscene city.  Don’t be surprised if you see a couple scenes lifted right out of the 1942 classic.  (Yep, its a comedy.)


     


Intrigues are nothing if not supported by an assassination or two, here engineered by Col. Chikaraishi (Kohata Ryuichi), a worthy bad guy in anyone’s book and, not coincidentally, related to Chen’s nemesis in pre-WWI years.  About this time a masked “superhero” arises to do battle.  He is costumed much like Green Hornet’s valet, Kato, even though those characters did not appear in comics until ten years later, and Kato is Japanese not Chinese.  Chikaraishi comes up with a “Death List” that includes names of many who oppose the Japanese presence in China (should be quite a list.)  More to the point, the names are those suspected of being Chen’s friends, and since Chen was the man who killed Chikaraishi’s father some years earlier, this becomes a matter of pride and revenge.  But can Chen prevent the murder of all the names on the Death List before he himself is unmasked?  It’s a wager that the ruthless Chikaraishi makes with Qi almost as if he knows his true identity.


There are attempts in Legend of the Fist to honor the tradition implied in its title by suggesting that Donnie Yen is not Chen Zhen after all, but merely a hero who models himself on that legendary figure, allowing for the possibility of not only different actors playing the part (not in the same movie - that is a horror yet to come) but the same hero in different times and places - like Sherlock Holmes.


     


Image : 8/8

Very slick and polished, consistent with the subject matter.  Colors are a little bleached in the WWI sequence, as is common, but very sharp.  The Shanghai material is saturated, especially in the Casablanca, and at times a little flat and lacking in detail.  Blacks are very deep, yet reveal detail in shadows.  The assassination attempt at night in the rain reveals a great deal of dark level information allowing us to follow assassins but deliberately confusing the action at times.  When the masked hero arrives, everything and everybody is clarified.


     


Audio & Music : 10/6

Well Go opted for both Mandarin and English dub in DTS-HD MA 5.1, adding Dolby Digital 2.0 options for each language.  Interestingly, the original Media Asia Blu-ray offers Mandarin and Cantonese Dolby TrueHD 7.1 mixes, as they did with Red Cliff.  Some of the most exciting sound comes in the movie’s opening scene set in WWI France with explosions and machine gun fire all around.  There’s plenty of cross panning zipping bullets ricocheting off one surface or another, sometimes hitting their mark with a satisfying thud.  Knife thrusts to the body abound as do fists to the face and body.  There’s a gruesome unexaggerated slicing sound to the knife thrusts, and just enough variety to the body blows to keep them interesting.  Explosions carry plenty of bass and power across the channels.  The first Casablanca night club scene especially is a tour de force of competing textures - singing, orchestra, crowd chatter, small groups singing, gambling noises.  Through it all, even when dialogue is singled out, clarity and balance is superb.  Rainfall during the nighttime assassination scene is nicely judged.  A demonstration audio mix.


     


Operations : 6

For some reason Well Go divides the bonus features between the Blu-ray disc and the accompanying DVD, presumably so that it can offer the trailers in HD, but the inclusion of a handful of behind the scenes production material here instead of on the DVD is puzzling.  Some eighty minutes of production featurettes and cast & filmmakers’ interviews are found on the DVD.  There are Play All functions as well as English subtitles for all.  Translation for the feature film is idiomatic with only occasional grammatical errors.


     


Extras : 7

On the Blu-ray disc, we find about seventeen minutes worth of Behind the Scenes material: The War Zone (7:57) and the Casablanca set (9:34).  On the DVD the 30-minute featurette looks production details and cast & action direction of six busy scenes: Tianjin Street (3:20), Market Place (5:30), Newspaper Office (3:15), Japanese Headquarters (3:05), Student Movement (3:45) and Hongkou Dojo (11:00) - all shown in good quality anamorphic widescreen with a Play All and English subtitles.


     


The second DVD bonus feature is a collection of seven interviews on the set with the director, producer and cast: Andrew Lau (16:05), Gordon Chan (1:40), who talks about the “return” of Chen Zhen and Donnie Yen (9:20). Shu Qi (9:40), Anthony Wong (3:00), Huang Bo (5:15) and Kohata Ryuichi (4:00) from whom we learn that this is his first martial arts film, all comment at length about their characters and their backstory.  The interviewer's questions are written Chinese, but they are evident enough from the responses.


     


Recommendation : 7

Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen has some horrific and well staged fight scenes, though perhaps too few to please fans of that particular genre.  They are as brutal in their way as they are likely to provoke grins of approval. The image is good, the audio is outstanding.  If you liked Kill Bill and like your martial arts movies to bend the genre, you are sure to like this one.  On the other hand, if you require some semblance of plot consistency, then expect squirming and groaning.  As for me, I expect this movie to qualify as a guilty pleasure.  It is entertaining in spite of itself.  We shall see what a second viewing brings.


I should note that WEll Go offers a single-disc BRD edition for $3.00 less.


     


 

Leonard Norwitz

© LensViews

June 1, 2011


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