Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen [精武风云] (2010)

Starring 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 Songwen, Lü Xiaolin

Directed by Andrew Lau

Expectations: Moderate, I heard this wasn’t that good.

I’m a huge fan of Donnie Yen and I’d love to come out and say that everybody needs to check out the latest of his films to hit stateside. I’d be lying through my teeth if I did though, because Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen is a major disappointment. I even went into the movie with tempered expectations after hearing it was just alright, but the actuality of watching it was even worse than I had prepared myself for. This is a real shame because Donnie Yen in the role of Chen Zhen sounds like an awesome setup to me.

The film opens during World War I where Donnie Yen and some fellow Chinese brethren are doing their best to stay alive amidst the explosions in the devastated war zone. Yen eventually kicks it into high-gear and single-handedly annihilates the opposing force with a mix of superhero spunk and martial skill. The action here is ridiculously over-the-top & unbelievable but it’s incredibly fun. If only the rest of the film could keep up the pace and boisterous nature of these opening moments.

Chen Zhen is a fictional Chinese hero that helped fight against the Japanese invaders after World War I. He was first introduced to moviegoing audiences in the Bruce Lee classic Fist of Fury and was later memorably portrayed by Jet Li in Fist of Legend. Donnie Yen is another great fit for the role. He does a wonderful acting job here and you know his fighting is second to none. So what’s the problem? Uh… basically everything else. First of all, to call this an action film is a total joke, as there’s maybe ten-fifteen minutes of action in the entire 105 minute runtime. The rest of the time is filled with ridiculous song and dance numbers, talking heads and poorly written characters that you can’t connect with. This film has more in common with those lackluster early period, Chinese opera-influenced Shaw Brothers films than the Hong Kong action heyday. There’s a reason they stopped making them like that and we don’t need to move backwards. The main problem other than the lack of action is the script, which is nearly incomprehensible at times. At its heart, the story is very simple so I’m at a loss to explain why the film seems so complicated. They do bring all the threads together in a fairly satisfying moment at the end of the film, but it’s much too little too late.

The action scenes are great when they come around, but the story is told so poorly that you may have fallen asleep by the time they do. The opening war scene is one of the best in the film, but my favorite scene was either the fight in the newspaper office or Chen Zhen’s début fight as the Masked Man in the streets of Shanghai. Both scenes features fantastic action and choreography, not to mention some of the best non-flying wire-work I’ve ever seen on film. Never before have dudes that just got punched rocketed across the screen and through every obstacle in their path with such force. I loved every moment of this and it’s a shame the film surrounding them had to turn out so poor.

If you’re hard up for some martial arts action, re-watch Fist of Legend or Iron Monkey, and if you’ve got your heart set on something new… watch True Legend instead. I cannot recommend Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen in any instance other than to die-hard martial arts completists who will watch the film regardless of what they hear about it… like I did. And if you do choose to brave these waters, it’ll be a much more enjoyable experience if you keep the fast-forward handy and only watch the fights. Trust me.