Director: Liu Chun
Notable Cast: Tiger Xu, Huang Weiting, Xu Shaohang, Wang Jiusheng, Wang Hongqian, Ye Xinyu
As of recently, the online, streaming exclusive releases in China have been plentiful. I briefly mentioned it in my piece on The Emperor’s Sword HERE, but properly conveying the number of titles being unleashed on various services can easily rival the breaking dam of titles in the US. Fortunately, a handful of streaming services in the US and other western countries have picked up a few of these titles for release, and, after seeing some overall positive reactions to Fist of Legend, I dove into Hi-Yah! to check out this kung fu flick.
At a wickedly fast 70+ minutes, Fist of Legend is precisely what the doctor ordered. It’s not one of those films that genre fans will feel like they missed out on because they didn’t see it in theaters - thanks to its smaller scale and limited budget. However, it’s still a relatively solid film, entertaining enough, and features plenty of ass-kicking beatdowns to keep kung fu fans appeased.
Granted, it should be noted, that while it shares the same title as the Jet Li starring Chen Zhen film from 1994, this film is not inherently a remake. The original Fist of Legend was a remake itself, telling the story of Chen Zhen when he returns home from studying in Japan to fight off a conspiracy by the Japanese military that left his teacher dead. This version, however, is a prequel of sorts that tells of the time when Chen Zhen was studying in Japan and the trouble he gets into there. So while the title remains a bit confusing, it serves in some way as a prequel/reboot - or preboot if you will.
With that in mind, Fist of Legend does intend to recapture the fun of the 1990s Jet Li film, but doing it on a budget. For some fans, this film will just serve to remind them of how incredible that version of Chen Zhen is and perhaps get them to throw that on instead. However, I implore people to give this one a chance because it’s delivering the same formula. Chen Zhen, now played by Tiger Xu who has been in a ton of big budget action flicks and weirdly looks like Jet Li in this film at times (??), crosses paths with some ambitiously assholish Japanese fighters and military men, kicks a lot of ass, and finds just enough time for a thin romantic subplot.
Fist of Legend is not throwing any spins, twists, or surprises into that formula, for better or worse. It doubles down on just being a fun kung fu flick. The performances are solid enough, with a secondary cast that are delivering Acting in some fun and over the top ways, and the thin origin story of Chen Zhen’s love interest serves as the heart to the matter to balance out its discussions about keeping Chinese martial arts alive and being proud of your heritage even when you’re not living in your own country.
The biggest surprise though is the action. It’s opening fight sequence, with a black masked (oh yeah, that makes a return in this one too) Chen Zhen ripping apart some Japanese guys in the rain for sexually assaulting a Chinese woman, sets the stage. Despite its limited budget and, let’s say, proficient run time, this film delivers a lot of great little fights. The audience will never, ever feel as though Chen Zhen is in danger - thanks to it being a prequel and the propaganda jingoism that runs rampant in most Chinese films now, but the choreography and visuals that go along with the fight work are pleasantly entertaining.
Sure, Fist of Legend 2019 isn’t going to wow a lot of folks looking for the next big thing in action cinema, but it is a shiny little gem for kung fu fans who might stumble across it on streaming. It’s fun enough to be enjoyable and with its short run time it’s not a huge burden to watch. Go in with expectations to enjoy it for what it is and that’s what you’ll get.