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  Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen Dynamo Donnie
Year: 2010
Director: Andrew Lau
Stars: Donnie Yen, Shi Qu, Anthony Wong, Shawn Yue, Yasuaki Kurata, Karl Dominik, Ryu Kohata, Jiajia Chen, Bo Huang, Siyan Huo, Yale Varty, Shi Feng, Zhou Yang, Alex Ahlstrom
Genre: Thriller, Martial Arts, HistoricalBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: During the First World War in Europe, China sent a few thousand soldiers there to assist the allies, but they were also doubling as labourers and had a particularly tough time of it. One of those chosen to go was Chen Zhen (Donnie Yen), who was escaping the authorities there and needed to lie low, though as a great hero in battle perhaps that was not quite as possible as it would have been if he had not been so skilled at combat. Once, after saving a group of his fellow countrymen caught in a foxhole, and using elaborate acrobatics to do so, one of his friends was shot dead...

...enabling Chen to assume his identity and return to China to do battle with the Japanese. Legend of the Fist was the second film to feature the national icon after a certain martial arts blockbuster that starred a certain Bruce Lee, which could have made Yen look as if he was attempting to take Bruce's mantle as one of the all time greats, if not THE all time great. Of course, Jet Li had already taken the role in his nineties effort Fist of Legend (hmm, kind of similar those titles) and it had done his career no harm whatsoever as many thought that was one of Li's best movies, so in theory Yen had nothing to lose, especially as he had starred in a TV series on the same subject.

To those outside of China, on the other hand, this film's relentless patriotism began to look less like pride in their country and more like rampant jingoism, and it could be argued that this tone was what it took to get a movie made in the China of 2010. However, you could equally regard the British and especially the Japanese bad guys in this as the equivalent of the Germans being the bad guys in the seemingly endless stream of World War II blockbusters being churned out of the West for all these decades, and there were not too many complaints there about such typecasting because, as it was in China, the filmmakers had history on their side as far as who they portrayed as the antagonists.

Besides, there was a sympathetic Japanese character in Legend of the Fist who comes across as being forced into their war crimes at least - to reveal who it was would be to give away a late on twist. But if anything, this was more like an espionage movie instead of a war movie, with Yen's playing Chen as an undercover pianist in gang boss Anthony Wong's nightclub, and adopting a disguise to fight back against the occupying forces. That disguise was yet another reference to Bruce Lee, whose shadow loomed large over Yen's performance here, with the star putting on Lee's Kato outfit from his Green Hornet television series to make overt allusions to the legend's superhero status.

The plot tended to get bogged down in too much exposition between the action, making for a choppy experience if you were not already a fan of Donnie, here apparently trying to show off his range but coming across as the same as usual. He gets to romance nightclub singer Kiki (Shi Qu) as well, but that is heading for predictable heartbreak, and sentimentality rears its head whenever Chen's old army buddies are considered - there's upcoming tragedy for them too as they assist in saving the Chinese intellectuals who cannot stand up for themselves against Japanese violence. But it was that final fight sequence that would garner most of the attention as Yen recreated with quick edits and surface gloss the famous finale from Fist of Fury, making references to Lee's style both physically and vocally, the "Sick Man of Asia" insult Chen sees it as his duty to refute, and other bits designed to make you think, yeah, he's the obvious successor to Bruce. A debatable point, surely. Music by Kwong Wing Chan.

[Metrodome's region 2 DVD has an interview with Yen, a behind the scenes featurette, and a bunch of additional stuff if you choose to put the disc into your computer.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Andrew Lau  (1960 - )

Hong Kong director and cinematographer responsible for some of the biggest hits in recent HK cinema. Born Wai Keung Lau, he photographed classics such as City on Fire, Curry and Pepper and Wong Kar-Wai's Chungking Express. As a director, Lau brought a flashy, commercial style to films like Naked Killer 2, Modern Romance and To Live and Die in Tsimshatsui, all produced by the prolific Wong Jing.

In 1996 Lau directed the hugely successful gang movie Young and Dangerous, which he followed up with four sequels and a prequel. His other notable films include the effects-laden fantasy epics Storm Riders, A Man Called Hero and The Duel, as well as co-directing the hit cop thriller Infernal Affairs and its two sequels. Not to be confused with actor Andy Lau.

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