Among the many highly acclaimed Hong Kong martial arts films that Jet
Li has starred in, Fist Of Legend probably ranks near the top.
This ranking is maybe not for his acting and maybe not for the story, but
probably for it having the best fight choreography in almost any of his
films to date. What makes the choreography so good? Well in this film's
case, it is all realistic and done almost completely without the use of
The story is quite simple to say the least. Jet Li is Chen Zhen, a
student of a martial arts master who is defeated in a match by a Japanese
fighter under mysterious circumstances. He learns of his master's death
while studying in Japan, and immediately heads home to find out the
truth. He discovers that his master's opponent was no match for his
master, which could only mean one thing, foul play. The hostility between the
Chinese and Japanese increase, and soon he discovers a Japanese
general's plan to destroy China's power to revolt against the Japanese.
What this simple story very successfully manages to do, is set up lots
of different scenarios for fights. That is what the film is about and
in that regard Fist Of Legend delivers. The opening fight in the
Japanese school sets the tone for the standard that is to follow. It is
Jet versus lots of Japanese students and he methodically and very
efficiently removes each one from the fight. Yes, there is a little too much
of them all attacking one after the other, rather than at the same time
but let's not complain too much! The swift dislocation of the
attackers' joints shows the skill of Chen Zhen, but it also shows a different
style fight than the usual fare. At this stage it is not punching and
kicking, it is blocking then disabling. I thought it was fantastic!
The rest of the fights, while reverting to the more usual choreography
still remain of a high standard with both Chin Siu Ho and Billy Chow
showcasing their abilities. The final showdown between Jet and Billy Chow
lasts about 10 minutes on its own and while great if you just like to
watch fighting, it can become a little tiresome if that isn't the only
reason you watch these films.
With the film's background message being about the hostility between
the Japanese and the Chinese, it is not a surprise that there are quite a
few moments in the film where the differences in style between Chinese
Kung Fu and Japanese Karate are highlighted. While the bias is
obviously towards Kung Fu, it is pleasing to see the Japanese Karate master is
given as much respect in the choreography during his fight, allowing
Karate to have an equal footing with Chen Zhen's Kung Fu.
For realistic martial arts fans, who are not always best pleased with
the more wuxia style films, this film is a must see. The simple
story of revenge allows the abundance of fight scenes to shine through,
leaving you satisfied, if not a little jealous!