Martial Arts Mondays #4
Fist of Legend (1994)
Starring: Jet Li, Siu-Ho Chin, Shinobu Nakayama
Directed by: Gordon Chan
“Fist of Legend“, starring Jet Li as “Chen Zhen”, is a remake of the kung fu classic Chinese Connection, which featured none other than Bruce Lee in the title role. To writer/director Gordon Chan’s credit, there are plenty of differences here from the original. Personally I prefer remakes like these over the carbon copy, damn near “shot for shot” Psycho-esque remakes that bring virtually nothing new to the table. Honestly if you’re just going to shoot the same film, why bother?
Change for the sake of change is very much a crapshoot, especially when well known properties are involved. Thankfully, most of the moves Gordon made here seem to work(I could have done without the “autopsy” scene, but that’s just me). For example, in the original film Chen’s love interest is a fellow Chinese martial arts student. In Fist of Legend she’s a Japanese woman Chen has met while studying abroad. It’s an interesting approach that leads to some conflict later in the film when his friends at the kung fu school find out. It also gives the character some added purpose in a way that doesn’t feel forced. Chan even added another layer to story by introducing a new villain, a Japanese general not only intent on closing the school, but with his own ulterior motives. Instead of having “The Russian”, a hired hand(who was played in Chinese Connection by Bruce Lee’s real life bodyguard, Robert Baker), you have someone with more of a personal connection to the events of the film.
These changes definitely added more to the story, while keeping the revenge theme intact. The basic premise is the same– Chen Zhen finds out his beloved teacher has died and returns home to pay respects and find out what happened. The journey to the truth is different for both films.
Even with the expanded story, you’re really just waiting for Jet Li to go to work. There are certain people who I feel shouldn’t be on screen unless they’re about to kick someone’s ass, and Jet Li is one of those people. He never disappoints in this film, showcasing speed and power that made me rewind at least four times. It would have been very interesting to see Jet and Bruce on screen together had Bruce Lee lived. He would have been in his 50s around the time this was filmed, so it would have been possible.
Fist of Legend has some great fight scenes and expands on the original Chinese Connection in a few new and interesting ways. Fans of Jet Li as well as the original film should walk away pleased. Martial arts fans in general will at least enjoy the graceful displays Jet Li puts on.
Fist of Legend has three language tracks and two English subtitle tracks! I wish all Netflix content got this level of treatment.
The dubbing here is actually worse than it is in the original film. Why even bother with an English track?
Both films have a heavy dose of racial conflict as the story takes place during the early to mid 1930s. This conflict is explored more in Fist of Legend due, in part, to some of the changes I mentioned in this review.