You may or may not know, but this movie is actually a remake of Fist of Fury with Bruce Lee (common knowledge). Although it is quite similar to the original in a lot of ways, there are also differences that make it stand up quite well on it’s own.
Chen Zhen (played by Jet Li), is studying at a Japanese University in Kyoto when he hears about the death of his Master Huo Yuanjia. After being raised by Huo Yuanjia, Chen Zhen returns home as quickly as he can. Once back in Shanghai, in a period when the Japanese occupied the city, he catches up with his old friends and pays his respects.
While paying his respects he takes down a sign from Huo Yuanjia’s wall and smashes it. The is Chinese for ‘Tolerance’ – and Chen refuses to let the death of his master sit still, so he heads over to challenge the man Yuanjia was fighting when he died.
After taking on the Japanese school he then fights the Sensei Akutagawa (Jackson Liu), the man who fought Yuanjia. He declares that he will fight using the same style as his masters, and quite easily defeats him.
After the fight, Chen realises that Akutagawa could not have defeated master, he was simply too easy to fight (and Chen holds his masters abilities above his own). From there he digs up Yuanjia’s corpse where they discover that he has indeed been poisoned. Chen then tries to take matters into his own hands.
The Racism in Comparison to Fist of Fury
Just like in Bruce Lee’s film, there is a heavy emphasis on the oppression of the Japanese in this film, but with a twist.
Chen Zhen meets and gets involved with a girl named Mitsuko – who is Japanese!
This inter-racial couple symbolises the peace that should exist between all races, but also addresses how racism both sides of a conflict can be. While the Japanese are oppressing the Chinese in Shanghai, Chen Zhen is not accepted by his fellow Jing Wu Men, claiming he must leave the school or leave the Japanese Girl.
This is further perpetuated when the new Master Huo Ting’en (Yuanjia’s biological son) disappears and returns with a new girl named Rose – who is a prostitute from a local brothel. A direct statement that says ‘it’s ok, as long as she’s Chinese‘ despite the difference in character.
These message on racism mirrors Bruce Lee’s quite closely.
Elements of Bruce Lee’s Philosophy
One thing is quite clear in this movie, there are direct references to Bruce Lee’s fighting style throughout.
When Chen Zhen returns home from Japan, he teaches the Jing Wu Men some of his technique. As the men start showing traditional horse riding stances and moves, Chen proclaims that you need to be loose and relaxed, and not to get stuck in a stance that compromises balance and power.
Throughout the movie, Jet Li incorporate’s a bounce in to his fighting style similar to the one used by Bruce Lee in Way of the Dragon against Chuck Norris (which is inspired by the ‘Ali shuffle’ used by Muhammad Ali). He incorporates this into his own style which is different to those of anyone else in the film.
Before his fight with Funakochi Fumio (Mitsuko’s uncle - the number one fighter in Japan), Chen is asked ‘what the most powerful punch is’ – to which he replies that its about using the body and hips to focus all of your power to one point, a very scientific answer to the question.
After their discussion they’re ready to fight, as Chen is about to attack he is interrupted a few times by Fumio needing to warm up and get ready – which I believe to be a statement on actual combat. In a real fight your opponent won’t let you warm up, and the fight can start at any time.
The Fight Scenes
These are truly some of Jet Li’s best, they’re fast paced, exciting and all with different emotional drives behind Jet Li’s character. He goes from being viciously angry in some fights to simply fighting because he has to in other scenes. The aggression of Chen during his fight at the Japanese school is adds some excitement. You can see this as Chen steps up and puts his face about an inch away from Akutagawa’s and stares him in the face after each successful attack.
The end fight scene when Jet Li utilizes his belt against the General (who has a Samurai Sword) is a scene I thought was brilliant and truly resourceful. However the constant breaking of posts, pillars and stones around them was definitely over done – to the point when Chen Zhen lands on a stone seat and it shatters almost before he’s actually put any weight on it.
Also, while I thought the Ali Shuffle was a cool way of demonstrating some fighting philosophy, Jet Li almost overdoes it as well, jumping up and down ridiculously in some shots. But it doesn’t detract from the pace of the fight.
Look past those few minor bits and pieces and they’re exciting fight scenes. Jet Li’s quickness and acrobatic abilities are at the top of their game in this film.