Fearless (2006)
Reviewed by: pjshimmer on 2006-03-21
Summary: Stunningly compelling
Jet Li, Jet Li. How I missed thee. When my journey began, I used to find a new movie from your 90s glory every week, and I loved them all. (Then you started making crap one after another :p). Now in the year 2006 you are back with FEARLESS aka HUO YUAN JIA. I have only seen 25 of your 30 Chinese films, but I believe FEARLESS is arguably the most solid achievement... of your film career. Way to go, champ.

Of course, I have only watched FEARLESS once, so I don't know if this opinion about its superiority will hold in due time. Anyway, here's something else you need to know: the current official release of this film is CUT about 40 minutes due to "professionals in the field" complaining about redundant footage at various screenings. In particular, Michelle Yeoh, who attracted the second highest billing, has been completely removed from the movie, and there is not a trace of her character in the final cut. Even so, I think the film gets its point across: Chinese martial arts rock. :p More seriously, martial arts constitute training for the body, the mind, and morals; Martial arts should be used to help, not to provoke.

What pleasantly surprised me about this movie is the superior characterization of Huo Yuanjia the protagonist. Jet Li's career really took off when he starred as Wong Fei Hung the faultless national hero. Huo Yuanjia can be considered a fellow national hero next to Wong Fei Hung, but here Jet Li grants much more depth to the character. Huo Yuanjia was not born Mr. Do-the-right-thing, and he learned the proper path the hard way -- from mistakes. Huo Yuanjia's transformation is painfully and RAWly traced, which really stands out from the rather flawless characters that Jet Li has played during his career.

Another surely differentiating factor from other Jet Li films is the theme song. Here Jay Chou mixes his usual pop beats with CHINESE OPERA-style singing!!!!!!!! And guess what, the result is annoying at first but it sinks through quickly.

In case you are wondering, the fighting is TOP NOTCH, definitely among Jet Li's best, with very few wire work compared to movies like FONG SAI YUK. Fights involve weapon as well as empty hands. Personally, I prefer the weapon fights in this movie. Strangely to me, the fighting style and the occasionally "shifty" camera recalls the finale of Corey Yuen's SO CLOSE, which is maybe the greatest compliment that movie will ever receive.

My biggest (and only?) complaint is the choppy editing at times. 2 American editors were hired to do the job, and they incorporated some extremely poorly done "suddenly fast then suddenly slow motions" during key fight scenes, which I found distracting and of poor taste. This kind of editing can be spotted throughout Andrew Lau's THE DUEL (2000); the difference is that it worked for that movie's fantasy orientation, but here I just find it done much poorly.

FEARLESS is not quite perfect a film. However, Jet Li's good intentions to promote Chinese martial arts are perfectly welcome, as is his energetic effort to make his last martial arts movie an unforgettable experience.

Reviewer Score: 9