Saturday, March 11, 2006


by Reymundo Salao

In this fictionalized biopic, (originally titled HUO YUAN-JIA) FEARLESS, which is publicized as Jet Li's last martial arts movie, Li plays famed martial artist and Chinese hero Huo Yuan-Jia, who overcame his personal and physical battles to become the most famous Chinese fighter and restored the glory of practicing martial arts at the turn of the 20th century. This Journey of a fighter takes him to the darkness of arrogance, vengeance, and tragedy, and later into redemption and nationalistic glory.

One thing that I sometimes envy and admire about Chinese filmmakers is that they often tap on the themes of love-of-motherland, resistance to colonialism, and national pride quite a lot in many of their movies (like "Once Upon A Time In China" movies, and "Drunken Master 2") and achieve a smash hit with them. And "FEARLESS" is one movie with a heavy nationalistic theme. I could not help but bridge the storyline of this movie, its main character who was becoming a fighter who carried with him his national pride, with that of our very own icon-of-the-times Manny Pacquiao. I could not help but co-relate the sense of a dying nationalism and Westernization in China in the early 1900s and the sense of dying nationalism & growing apathy among our own Filipino citizens in this age. And that urge of the film's hero Huo Yuan-Jia to fight in the name of nationalism, and the hope that Manny Pacquiao is indeed fighting for Filipino glory and not just about the glamour of fame that seems to be overintoxicating by now.

This movie's fight director is Yuen Woo Ping, whose reputation has, by now, become legendary. From being the director of immortal kung-fu classics such as "Snake in the Eagle's Shadow" and "Drunken Master" to the 90's kung-fu great "Iron Monkey" which was re-released by Quentin Tarantino in the United States just a couple of years ago, and of course, he gained worldwide attention when he became the fight director of the groundbreaking action sci-fi "The Matrix" & its sequels. In addition, he also directed a 1982 movie with the same story and title "Huo Yuan-Jia".

One great thing about Woo Ping's work is that he seems have mastered action and stunt choreography way before the era in Hongkong's film history when they began using wire-stunts. And even if Woo Ping utilizes wire-stunts, he keeps it at a disciplined minimalized pace maintaining the high tolerance of action film realism. Except, of course, for "The Matrix" which is a sci-fi movie with a conditional film setting, and even if he does use wire stunts, he keeps it on a well-directed manner that it does not come off as bogus, fake & silly.

In many ways, martial arts and kung-fu movies (especially if done right, with a right director and script) has more appeal than the standard bullet-fist action movie, mainly because martial arts has aesthetic value. it is an art. Each blow, each punch, each block, each kick, each strike, all of it has coordinated harmony and grace; it has discipline; it has soul. And this is one movie that highlights martial arts and celebrates it with the story of a great martial arts master in China.

The film is directed by Ronny Yu who has already made his baby steps in making up his name in Hollywood when he directed the cult-horror crossover flick "Freddy vs Jason" (add'tnal rep. here) and Christine To and Chris Chow penned the screenplay.

The cinematorgraphy is beautiful, especially in the scenes of picturesque mountain landscapes which I'm sure would remind many of us of the mountain province. Sure, this film promises some vicious and truly artistic martial arts. But Yu also surprises us with a beautiful storyline rich in heart and patriotism. FEARLESS is one martial arts movie that is sure to go down in martial arts history, a biopic deserving of the hero that it portrays.

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