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Written by Funn Lim
 

" Believe all the accolades you have heard and read for this movie. It is that good."


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Chinese Title
Fok Yuen Kap / Huo Yuanjia

Released In
2006

Language
Mandarin but there is a Cantonese dubbed version.

Directed by
Ronny Yu

Cast
Jon T. Benn .... Businessman
Collin Chou .... Hua Yuan Jia's Father
Anthony De Longis .... Spanish fighter
Masato Harada .... Mr. Mita
Nathan Jones .... Hercules O'Brien
Mike Leeder .... Referee Randall
Jean Claude Leuyer .... Boxer
Jet Li .... Huo Yuan Jia/Fok Yuen Kap
Shido Nakamura .... Anno Tanaka
Bao Qijing .... Hua Yuan Jia's mother
Ian Powers .... Bellboy Dante
Brandon Rhea .... German Fighter
Michelle Yeoh .... Miss Yang (deleted from the movie)
Dong Yong ... Nong Jinsun
Betty Sun ... Yueci

A Note
I mentione wushu which is also martial arts and kung fu. I am sure you know what I mean although I do not draw the line clearly between the terms. I apologise if I used the wrong term.

The Plot
This film tells the story of Chinese Martial Arts Master Huo Yuanjia (1869-1910). Huo Yuanjia was the founder and spiritual guru of the Jin Wu Sports Federation (from IMDB.com)

An almost true (but mostly fictional or rather romanticised) account of the well known and yet very little known (as in biographies) story of the man who created Jin Wu Men (you know, where the famous Bruce Lee movie was based on), Fok Yuen Kap aka Huo Yuanjia. You see his childhood, why he took up Kung Fu (for all the wrong reasons), suffered a major emotional breakdown and came back a stronger person and continuing to promote Kung Fu (this time for all the right reasons) until his untimely and tragic death at the age of 42 (which is real but even more dramatic in real life). It's all about Huo Yuanjia and every single frame is Jet Li and Jet Li alone.

Get the full story with pictures under STORY at the official website.

Comments
I have always loved and respected Jet Li as an artiste in terms of wushu/martial arts. Unlike Jackie Chan who is more of a stunt person than a real wushu person, Jet Li is truly a master at what he does best; that is NOT acting but actually simply doing what he was trained for since young. I have read much about how he was a national champion for 5 straight years before he went into movies and all that stuff but I just wish somebody would actually make a documentary of his life; after all he is really doing Shaolin kung fu! I always thought Shaolin was just a myth but it exists!

I went to watch this movie and the only thing that annoyed me was that I accidentally and unknowingly bought the tickets to the Cantonese version. But it was a lucky mistake because I don't think I would understand the China Chinese, too much R's. Moreover whoever did the dubbing did it brilliantly and I wouldn't have know they were not the actors' real voices. I suspect Jet Li is still using teh Wong Fei Hung voice, and with his voice dubbed with a more manlier and more authoritative voice, it kinda gives Hui Yuanjia a sense of authority, a sense of power and strength. Jet Li's real voice is admittedly on the high pitch side. But this was Nameless, the man so brilliant in Hero it really doesn't matter if he sounds like he's on helium.

If you loved Jet Li in Hero and if you admire every single kung fu frame of his fight with everybody in Hero, especially Donnie Yen, you may be disappointed that in Fearless, Jet Li didn't really have a fighter that deserves the accolades of being his equal. But Jet Li alone, doing his Tai-Chi or whatever is still as engaging as him fighting Donnie Yen in Hero, and this movie proves my point; that a film maker should just film a 3 hours video of Jet Li doing some exercise with every single known weapon to the Chinese wushu world. That would be a blockbuster I tell you.

What is great about this movie is not just the message. More on that later. Not just Jet Li. More on that later. BUT rather the fact that you get to see all types of weapons being used to very beautifully choreographed extent. Kudos to Yuen Woping. Imagine that; even a kung fu expert like Jet Li (and I suspect all opponents in this movie are champions in their own chosen field) needed Yuen Woping. I would say the choreographs by Yuen Woping complemented Jet Li and Jet Li did great justice to Yuen Woping's brilliant choreographed moves. If you want to see how knives are used, turn to a certain scene in this movie. Spears? No problem. Got also. Three sticks (that type where Bruce Lee modifed to two? Don't know what it is called though), got also. Big knives? Yep. Kicking legs? Got also. Just punches and fingers doing the deadly work? It's all in here. Forget about the many wapons used by Michelle Yeoh against Zhang Ziyi in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon; Fearless has it all and it is all real. Looking at Jet Li leaping, twisting, kicking, punching, just makes me wept with joy; finally he is returning back to his roots, more real than in Hero but Hero is in itself a masterpiece. No longer those wire stuff as in Wong Fei Hung or Jet Li fighting Jet Li literally like in The One or where he tries to act in dramatic movies. Jet Li is at his best when he is not acting in dramatic roles.

Take Hero for example. His inner conflicts and his dead pan looks as he considered whether to carry out his plans to assassinate the Emperor was really good. But in Fearless, you can see he gave it his all. First and foremost he is at the exact age that Huo Yuanjia was when he died, and aging a bit gives him a sense of worldliness, like he has seen it all and he is a master. If he were to play Wong Fei Hung now, it would have been better because age brings along wisdom and Jet Li has that now. He has the look of a learned master in this movie and he is convincing as a sifu as much as a man who has been through the worst of times and manages to pull himself up and see the enlightement. Maybe Buddhism helped; maybe the Tsunami incident recently where he risked his life to save his daughter added to that "seen it all" look. Somehow his acting was way better in here.

He was convincing as a very cocky and arrogant young man. His scenes with the cute little girl who played his daughter was just that; effective to show the bond of father and daughter. When they were senselessly murdered by a disgruntled student of a master that Huo Yuanjia killed earlier, it was a very emotional scene. Jet Li luckily didn't go ballistic; he instead acted out that scene in a way that brought out the most in terms of emotions; he quietly sat down holding his daughter's lifeless body, tears brimming in his eyes, realising what he did brought this end.

When he went to the village in his own self imposed exile as a lost man, the little scenes like how he quickly planted the padi at the padi field and yet nobody was every competing with him was funny and yet enlightening in terms of this man's personality; a true kiasu. When he came back a master and fought not for his own glory but for the honour of his people, you can see the change in his character; a more stable man, a stronger man. The change is hard to describe but Jet Li pulled it off. You could see has has aged a lot but yet he was convincing in the entirety of this movie; young and reckless; older and wiser. His death scene was sad and moving. His death serves a purpose. This movie does not even try to talk bad about the Japanese or westerners. In fact it showed them in good light in an honourable way; the only villains are the politicians and the rich businessman. The scene where he saved the American westler O'Brien was not just great kung fu but very moving as well as O'Brien said Thank You in Chinese. As Huo Yuanjia said to a fellow opponent; "I am here to make friends throught Kung Fu" as opposed to making enemies. His heart to heart talk with Japanese master was also a very interesting scene where it ended with mutual respect. The end of the fight was of course Yuanjia dying but that was because of dirty tricks employed by the Japanese businessman and even the Japanese master was so angry that he said to that businessman "You're the shame of our great people". Indeed. Huo Yuanjia may have died, but his death was not senseless. If any it restored the faith and pride of the Chinese people during that turbulent times.

I am sure you know Huo Yuanjia died right? Like in the Bruce Lee movie, we all know he died of poisoning. The question was how. Story has it he was indeed poisoned by the Japanese and died after fighting 10 Japanese kung fu experts. Other stories had it he was betrayed by his own people bought by the Japanese. This movie is in between. He died after drinking the tea brought by fellow Chinese who was bribed by the Japanese and he exerted so much energy during the first half of the fight with the Japanese master, he was already poisoned without a cure. But in the spirit of sportsmanship, he went on to fight to his death and on his death advised his students never to seek revenge because in the end revenge will only bring more suffering but must instead spread the words of comradeship and compassion through exchange of ideas of kung fu styles I suppose. That I suppose is the true message of wushu and this movie. I nearly cried when he died eventhough I know he would die but I didn't expect so soon as I though the movie may end it in a narrative way.

My only peeve about this movie is the cameraman. I prefer the Hero style where one long unending shot for the fighting scenes, as employed by the brilliant Zhang Yimou who certainly understood how to film a good fight scene. This director for Fearless just jerk and turn and all, making it hard to watch and sometimes the brilliant and beautiful moves by the experts in here are lost because of the sometimes inadequate camerawork. But don't let that deter you. From what is left from those scenes, it is still enough to convince me the moves are poetry in motion. Such beautifully executed moves.

Acting wise, Jet Li has finally emerged as a convincing dramatic actor. He is so much better now. His co-star Dong Yung who acts as Nong Jinsun was also very good, providing support and advice to the sometimes unreasonable and irrational Huo Yuanjia. If you must know, everybody was good in their respective role but Jet Li is the man who held this movie together.

It is a pity though that many minutes had to be trimmed from the final product because the original movie was deemed too short. Therefore we did not get to see Michelle Yeoh who was not involved in any fighting scene but was the character who narrated this movie to the people in modern times as this movie went flashback mode. BUT truthfully speaking I didn't feel the loss. I thought the movie began very well and ended just right. But great pity that a pivotal fight scene was snipped off, that featured some medal winning Thai boxer. But I understood why this snip; Thai boxers back then is totally irrelevant to the plot. But I hope to see these deleted scenes in the DVD. Other scenes which explain why Huo Yuanjia was afraid of heights was also snipped off. A great pity. I really don't mind the longer version but to make profit I guess unless you're Peter Jackson, no one would give thjat much time for you to tell a story properly. A great pity. Hopefully the DVD will include all these missing scenes and hopefully more, like TMO and such.

Jet Li says this will be his last wushu based movie. He is quitting simply because this type of genre exhausted him physically and especially mentally. I was like thinking how could that be until I saw this movie and indeed, it feels tiring not just to execute those moves but the idea and the philosophy behind every single moves executed. This being his swan song to wushu movies is an appropriate one and yet a sad one. This is where viewers are beginning to grasp Jet Li's magnificent ability in executing such moves with such poise and grace and then he's retiring; I hope perhaps Zhang Yimou and the likes may be able to persuade him otherwise. Granted, he is older now so perhaps less energy I guess.

The storyline is by no means perfect but it is the lessons, the philosophy and those kung fu chops without the wires (I suspect wires are used only to ensure the safety of the actors) with good performances generally makes this movie truly an unforgettable experience. China should have submitted this into the Oscars. In fact it should have been released earlier to make it into the Oscars. I am sure perhaps Jet Li may win a Golden Horse award for this one.

Believe all the accolades you have heard and read for this movie. It is that good. If you don't catch it in the cinema, a great pity. You could have been enriched with something, something meaningful and exciting. But a word of advise; just make sure you check whether the version you're watching is the Cantonese or the Mandarin version. But take my word for it; Cantonese version was brilliantly dubbed.

Verdict
A must see and do not miss this one.

Interesting Introduction
Not sure about other countries but in Malaysia the movie will begin with, believe it or not Jay Chou's MV for this movie! A great marketing ploy that will make the girls happy and the guys (and some girls like I) eagerly anticipate the movie with some intro clips as seen in the MV. The song however wasn't very good and as usual can never hear a word what he's singing. His diction was really not very clear at all.

By the way cool fact; the guy who plays Huo Yuanjia's father was Seraph in Matrix trilogy, a role I believe which was originally offered to Jet Li!

Interesting Pictures & More Info
More pictures & info at monkeypeaches.com, Jet Li's official website and please do not miss this one, the excellent official website (cool effects).

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Interesting Fact
Found this picture of the real Huo Yuanjia though not sure really real or not ...


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Foreign audiences might recall having seen Bruce Lee play Huo's apprentice in the 1972 production of Jing Wu Men.

Huo hailed from the Tianjin countryside. He founded the Jing Wu Men Marital Arts School. He died on September 14, 1910 at the age of 42, just after he defeated 10 Japanese judokas. Rumor has it that Huo was poisoned in a conspiracy by the Japanese, a tale that was confirmed by Huo Zizheng, his great-grandson, in an interview with International Herald Leader on January 23.

The only piece of written documentation on Huo is Biography of Modern Heroes, a novel by Ping Jiang Bu Xiao Sheng written in 1923. Later stories, TV and movie scripts were all based on that novel.

The Chin Woo Athletic Association in Shanghai is the only proof of Huo's existence and story. The organization, which now covers many continents with branches in many parts of China, Malaysia, Hong Kong, England, Australia, the United States and Russia and organizes major kungfu and sports events, is nearly 100 years old. It remains faithful to the practice and instruction of my jhong boxing.


(Taken from china.org.cn)


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