Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen (2010) Review

"Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen" Hong Kong Theatrical Poster

"Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen" Hong Kong Theatrical Poster

AKA: Fist of Fury: The Legend of Chen Zhen
Director: Andrew Lau
Writer: Cheung Chi-shing, Gordon Chan
Cast: Donnie Yen, Shu Qi, Anthony Wong, Huang Bo, Kohata Ryu, Yasuaki Kurata, Zhou Yang, Huo Siyan, Shawn Yue, Ma Yue, Ma Su, Chen Jiajia, Zhang Songwe, Lü Xiaolin
Running Time: 106 min.

By HKFanatic

The premise for “Legend of the Fist” sounds like a surefire hit: Donnie Yen (he’s so hot right now!) teams up with “Infernal Affairs” director Andrew Lau to return to the role of Chen Zhen, which was previously made famous by Bruce Lee in “Fist of Fury,” Jet Li in “Fist of Legend,” and Donnie himself in a 90’s Hong Kong TV show. What could go wrong?

Well, stylistically, this film is a bit all over the place. The opening scenes are set during World War I, where director Andrew Lau channels the desaturated look of many modern war movies like “Saving Private Ryan” and Donnie Yen engages in some brutal, bloody action. Seriously, once you see what Donnie does to some German soldiers with two bayonets, you’ll never look at war the same way again. I’ve already heard some reviewers say that the opening ten minutes, with its barrage of explosions and extreme blood-letting in a unique WWI locale, sets the bar for action so high that the rest of the film is a letdown.

The film soon leaves the trenches behind and makes the abrupt shift to the lavish, neon-lit world of 1930’s Shanghai, where the Japanese military are planning a slow takeover of China. The only one who can stop them? Chen Zhen, who sometimes finds it appropriate to don a Kato-like mask in order to protect his civilian identity as he fights to end the Japanese terror campaign. This is where the film struggles to find its own identity; political and war-time intrigue makes for odd bedfellows with costumed superheroics. The heavy blue tones of the cinematography, as well as the blend of street-level violence (streetcar bombings, assassinations) with a crime-fighting masked avenger, seem to purposefully evoke the feel of Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight.” Though be warned, the violence here is definitely in the “R” rated territory.

In the midst of all this plot (and there is quite a bit for an action movie), we have Donnie Yen kicking butt in jaw-droppingly choreographed fight scenes. There aren’t a ton of fight scenes, per se, but you get at least three setpieces where Donnie gets to show his stuff and pay homage to Bruce Lee. Elsewhere we have Shu Qi doing her best in a rather thankless role; Anthony Wong being his usual, cool self; and an over-the-top anti-Japanese sentiment that actually manages to eclipse Donnie Yen’s own Nippon-hating “Ip Man.”

If I have one serious complaint with the story it’s that the Japanese are portrayed as so evil, and get away with so much murder and bloodshed, that you never really feel like the hero wins, regardless of the film’s obvious “good vs. evil” pretensions. Similar to the damage the Joker wrecks in the aforementioned Batman film, we’re left with a Pyrrhic victory at most for our protagonist. For all its slick lighting and heroic music, this movie is kind of a downer. Not even the promise of a sequel with more Donnie Yen action can take away from that.

From reading message boards and comments online, I sense Western audiences are growing tired of the strong Chinese nationalism that seems to be necessary these days just to get an action movie past the Chinese censor boards. But let’s be honest: if all you want to see is a 47-and-still-fit-as-hell Donnie Yen kick ass in a Kato mask, then this is your movie. “The Return of Chen Zhen” is an uneven blockbuster that never lets up on the spectacle, even if it lets the viewer down from a story perspective.

HKFanatic’s Rating: 8.5/10

By JJ Hatfield

Chen Zhen is back in Shanghai in this movie that should be considered a continuation technically, but it is also a piece of sequel. Seven years after his “death” he disguises himself and intends to infiltrate the Japanese as well as find a very important list. He spends his nights fighting crime too. During the war Chen Zhen saves just about everyone, with the exception being all the enemy soldiers he manages to disassemble. After his return to Shanghai he begins his intense effort to infiltrate a group of the Japanese occupation. He continues to fight crime – usually in the form of ripping the heads off of Japanese occupiers.

The audience understands Chen Zhen hates the evil Japanese villains and he is going to brutally take out as many of the enemy as possible. (1) But Chen Zhen makes certain we don’t forget he hates the f ing Japs and he is out to kill! Other than kicking ass there is a back-story regarding the son of the sensei killed in the past. He becomes the main villain along with every Japanese.

I can’t say I was impressed with anyone’s acting including Donnie. Chen Zhen has a girlfriend (I don’t know what happened to the other one). Shu Qi harbors a dark secret that could cause peril for everyone. She doesn’t have much to do in the film but look gorgeous and that she does.

Andy Lau is not known for his superb action choreography so he basically let Donnie direct his own action scenes. I’m not certain that was the best decision for the movie. Chen Zahn’s character is all about Chinese being better than Japanese, including the martial arts. I have to confess I cannot say what form Donnie was using. It sure as hell wasn’t Wing Chun, but I can’t say what is was. Several times he uses a sort of “swingy arm” loopy type moves and then just when I think ahhh now he is using Northern Fist he would do something completely different.

Perhaps the idea was to show the differences that made Chinese martial arts superior but it failed miserably. It appeared to be more of a fist fight including kicks than any particular style or school. Finesse was nowhere to be seen. The all important end fight has Chen Zhen taking on an entire Dojo of masters. It doesn’t look good for Chen Zhen. He does have (Bruce’s) nunchakus, but unfortunately Donnie just does not have the same skill.

One of the great treats in “Fist of Legend” was Li and his enemy both would adjust their techniques to match the other, a sort of constant exchange of masterful ways. There was none of that in this movie. The feeling I experienced was that Chen Zahn is better because he is Chinese and has the Chinese spirit. Why Lau felt the need for trick photography, editing and such tight shots for fights is beyond me.

Yen is a very talented guy but you could not tell that from the downright shitty filming. Donnie doesn’t need camera tricks he needs to be allowed to do what he does best. Lau apparently was simply wanting to cash in before Donnie stops making action/martial arts films. Yen has been quoted as saying when he hit fifty he would no longer make martial arts movies, thus the flurry of movies the last few years.

I was totally underwhelmed by this movie. I wasn’t expecting a great deal either. However I did expect to see Chen Zhen doing great martial arts. What you could actually see was not impressive and the “wow” scenes were shot too close, at odd angles and other Lau attempts to do something, anything different than he has done before, which leaves a lot of room. Unfortunately he settled for mediocrity and it shows.

There are a million great scripts just gathering dust but instead Lau, Yen et al went for an easy box office hook – Anything to do with Bruce Lee or even Jet Li! There are stories of heroes that were real people, no doubt exaggerated to some extent but far more intriguing and entertaining than a remakish/continuation/sequel. I considered perhaps this was an attempt at adding a little Chinese camp but it was only laziness.

“Legend Of The Fist” was a disappointment. There was really no reason to make this movie in my opinion. I have viewed this film twice and didn’t find anything to make me change my response. This film simply doesn’t rate more than three stars, possibly 3.25 but no higher. All Donnie fans will be anxious to see this but you might want to have a watch before buying. As for me I feel slightly depressed.

(1) The history between areas we now know as China and Japan is thousands of years old. Over the centuries brutality and slaughter have been practiced by both sides, just as any other countries engaged in acquiring or defending real estate, sometimes called war. Especially fresh in terms of history is WWI and WWII and the years leading up to an actual declaration. There are good people and there are evil people in every part of the world. However a movie forum is not the place for a discussion regarding philosophy of life and strategies of war. I did not erase the facts instead stayed within the character’s framework of the movie for the review.

JJ Hatfield’s Rating: 6/10

By Mighty Peking Man

Director Andrew Lau (The Storm Riders, Infernal Affairs) re-writes film history by making Chen Zhen (Bruce Lee) survive the blazing gunfire in the now-legendary freeze frame in 1972’s “Fist of Fury.” Not much detail is explained on how he survives, but the movie makes it obvious that the character is capable of dodging bullets.

“Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen,” which takes place after the events of “Fist of Fury,” follows Chen Zhen (now played by Donnie Yen) as he leads an underground resistance movement aimed to stop the Empire of Japan from invading China; When he goes after the bad guys, he disguises himself as a masked superhero.

Bruce Lee fans will appreciate the references to their hero (Kato costume, nunchucks, and uniforms from 1972’s Fist of Fury). There’s even direct hints that establishes this movie as a true sequel (one flashback recreates a scene from the original). So whether you like it or not, this is Fist of Fury “Part 2” and not some gay remake (like that Jet Li piece of shit everybody loves so much).

Even with all these neato Bruce Lee surprises, there’s never really a moment where I feel a magical connection. Even “New Fist of Fury” and some of those Bruce Li sequels were able to accomplish that. Way to go Andrew Lau.

The main problem with “Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen” is that it feels like one long theatrical trailer – one that never quite grabs my attention. The film just moves from one scene to another with hardly any room to breathe. About 20 minutes in, I felt unattached to everything on the screen and I stayed this way until the very end. I mean, come on… this is the star of “Ip Man” in a “Fist of Fury” sequel directed by the guy who essentially gave Martin Scorsese his best film since “Goodfellas.” There’s something seriously wrong here.

There are instances of brilliance in some of the action, thanks to Donnie Yen unleashing his fury (*cough* bring back Sammo Hung as choreographer). But overall, the outcome is uninspiring. Come to think of it, there’s not a whole lot of action going on (and mind you, the lack of action isn’t the film’s problem). There’s a chunk of action in the beginning, a little here and there, then there’s the so-so grand finale (and I mean so-so). Was it me or was Donnie Yen doing his Bruce Lee imitation unintentionally silly? I’ve pretty much come to the conclusion that Bruce Lee is the only guy on Earth who can use a pair of nunchucks and not come off looking like an idiot.

I have to add that “Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen” is very violent with a lot of morbid death scenes and even a torture sequence, but it all feels out of place and forced. Speaking of that torture scene; I don’t want to see Donnie Yen’s ass, I want to see him kick ass. Who the hell does he think he is, Daniel Craig?

The film also stars Anthony Wong (who looks like he wishes he starred in “Ip Man” instead) and Shu Qi (didn’t we get sick of her 10 years ago?) who spends the majority of her screen time acting tipsy. As far as the actors who play the Japanese baddies, they suck and have no charisma at all.

I don’t know about you guys, but I prefer Chen Zhen dead.

Mighty Peking Man’s Rating: 5.5/10

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4 Responses to Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen (2010) Review

  1. Turhan Juarren Gushiniere says:

    Good review JJ, I liked it a little more 6.5/10. I guess because I saw some of the Chinese Television show in which Donnie portrayed Chen Zhen, my opinion on this one induces me to like it more. However, I agree with many of your points. A fresh movie with a different character starring Donnie amidst the post WW2 back drop would have been better. Again biased Donnie fan but this could have been a lot better, and they truly did not need the Kato thing going on!

    • JJ Hatfield says:

      Thanks! Maybe seeing the tv series would have changed my opinion however not to the point of raising the rating. Perhaps to a “7” but then sometimes I think I should have gone with a “5”. My overwhelming feeling was that Donnie just did not feel comfortable in his role. This surprises me if he was already in that role on tv.

      I’m actually being selfish. Time is ticking and I fear he will keep his word regarding no more at 50. He could easily continue to do roles after that but he wouldn’t be the first super talented guy to say no more major kicking ass if any. So I want him making great movies such as Ip Man 1&2 or even “Seven Swords”! I’m tired of Chen Zhen.

      You are correct! I’m certain the Kato connection was a marketing idea and it definitely did not improve the movie. It’s not an awful film. It’s just time to put Chen Zhen to rest.

  2. JJ Hatfield says:

    HKFanatic – Good thorough review! You liked this movie quite a bit more than I did.

    I think I’m just burned out with the theme.

  3. JJ Hatfield says:

    MPM I agree with your review, especially with the last line.

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