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Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar

TIFF Review: Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen

Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen, revisits an iconic character originally played by Bruce Lee (in Fists of Fury) and Jet Li (in Fist of Legend). Here, Donnie Yen reprises the role of Chen Yen from a 20-episode 1995 television series version of Fists of Fury. This time around, Chen Zhen returns to China under an assumed identity after fighting with the Allies in Europe, just in time to take on the Japanese on his home turf.

He ends up part-owner of Casablanca, a nightclub owned by a local tycoon (Anthony Wong) that’s become a hub of activity for Japanese officers, spies, Chinese mobsters looking to make a profit on war, and pretty women looking to make a profit however they can. When he’s not hanging out trying to look like a well-heeled businessman and hooking up with the beautiful club hostess/singer Kiki (Shu Qi), Chen Zhen bides his time plotting revenge and protects innocent civilians from the tyranny of the Japanese with his bad-ass marital arts skills in his secret role as The Masked Avenger.

There is so much packed into this movie that it would take me several viewings to catch all of them, but suffice it to say that this film is referential of everything from Fists of Fury , superhero references to both The Green Hornet and Bat Man (and maybe others I’m overlooking), and, perhaps, to the nightclub scene in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (minus the poison and the antidote). And so help me, there are visual moments in the film that even reminded me of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (although this is a much, much better film).

There’s a very interesting blend of genres here — the war movie, the spy movie, the superhero myth, Brucesploitation, the buddy movie. There are the beautiful dames who are nothing but trouble, internal fighting among two generals who lead opposing factions of the Chinese army, corruption, deceit, and Japanese bad guys who will do whatever it takes to win.

On top of all that, we have a revenge story layered in, with Chen Zhen ultimately seeking to take down the guy who killed his beloved teacher. There’s war and death, love, friendship and betrayal, intentionally amusing (I think) earnest student protesters jumping into the fray, and plenty of well-choreographed fight scenes, and all of it is very well handled by Lau, who previously directed the Infernal Affairs trilogy. Production design by Eric Lam (Lust, Caution) is excellent as well.

Yen is a suave, debonair and athletic hero, and Shi Qi rock-solid as always as the object of Chen Zehn’s affection. Anthony Wong as the tycoon who wants to do the right thing but also wants to continue to make money and Huang Bo as a seemingly inept police officer, are on-hand providing solid back-up support.

Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zehn is a tremendously fun movie, in much the same way that The Good, the Bad, and the Weird was fun, but with more of a superhero vibe (and superheros certainly seem to be the order of the day right now) — and in much the same way that Bruce Lee and Jet Li‘s takes on Chen Zhen were (heck, still are) fun to watch, too. Very much recommended.

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One Response to “TIFF Review: Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen”

  1. New! Listing on Music by davidewood: Twitter account of David Wood. Producer and multi-instumentalist from Cana th..

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon