Friday, March 2, 2012

FEARLESS - Huo Yuan Jia

The most EPIC, Epic of modern TIME!!!

OK. Perhaps I'm being dramatic with that subtitle. However, I am alone this week as MJ has take another week to be with family, and I need all the help I can get! Aaaaand... this is a movie unlike any other. Amazing cinematography, mind boggling choreography, and a story that sucker punches you in the old ticker at multiple points! Yeah... it IS that good. 

NOW... Before we actually get too far into this review, I want to put a stop to the griping before it even starts. I'm looking at you
Gripey McGriperton!!!

Many people get up in arms, saying "Jet Li said this was going to be his last film. What a liar!!!" Here's the deal. You have to actually READ what he stated. He said that this was going to be his last EPIC Martial Arts Film. Epic as in, a full year of intense training before filming can even begin... months and months of choreography... tons of historical research to ensure the most accuracy possible... costuming, costuming, costuming... two to three years of his life dedicated to the absolute completion of a 3 hour film. At 43 years of age (when the movie was made), and over 45 movies under his belt... he can pretty much say and do whatever he wants.

Since the making of Fearless, he has not undergone another EPIC film of this magnitude.
So, lay off of Mr. Li.
He is an internationally recognized Wushu chamption and could crush you with his Wuxi finger hold. 


And now...on to the movie!

Hou Yuanjia,1869 - 1911
Fearless is a 2006 release by director Ronny Yu. The story was written by Chris Chow & Chi-long To, and stars Jet-Li, Collin Chou, Shido Najamura, Betty Sun, and many other VERY talented people. It is however, very important to know that this is an amazing story with strong historical roots that play a KEY role in many martial arts films. The film is about Master Huo Yuanjia (1869-1910), who, through a turbulent life filled with powerful lessons, became the co-founder of Jin Wu sports federation. This is significant in that "The Chinese Connection" (Bruce Lee) and "Legend of the Fist"(Donnie Yen) are both built off of the murder of Huo Yuanjia and the temporary destruction of Chin Wu (Jin Wu) by the Japanese during their occupation of Shanghai in 1910.

Hou Yuanjia is considered to be a major hero in Chinese history. He stood up for the Chinese people during a time when their culture and land was being compromised by Europe and Japan, helping to build national pride and a martial arts legacy that continues on today in the Chin Wu Association.

Collin Chou as Huo Endi
Our story begins with the young Huo Yuanjia watching his father Huo Endi (played by Collin Chou... SWOON) teaching Kung Fu to a group of adult men. Huo desperately wants to learn, but his father forbids it due to Huo's asthma and recurring jaundice. According to his father, Huo should instead be getting an education and learning calligraphy. 

Throughout his childhood he talks his friend, Nong Jinsun, into doing his homework so that he can work at learning Kung Fu on his own and become the next champion of Jinghai, just like his father. One day, while watching his father in a public match, he witnesses his father hold back and not absolutely destroy his opponent. This costs Huo Endi the match and, from Huo Yuanjia, costs the entire family their honor. He gets into a verbal scuffle with the son of the winner, and gets his little assets beat down. In his humiliation, he declares that he will become mighty and will never be defeated again.

Now, as if the beat down wasn't humiliating enough, he is forced to explain himself to his father... who, again, has forbid his son from learning Kung Fu. He calls for his son to be whipped for his intentional defiant and dangerous behavior. But, Yuanjia's mother steps in to protect him, suggesting that he work on his calligraphy. Thus, his father orders him to write the Confucius' doctrine 10 times before dinner.

Now, the key importance of this is that Confucius Doctrine, especially "Doctrine of the Mean", are about the characteristics and path of high virtue (jen), and how by practicing through social order, you can become a virtuous man (Chun Tzu). This is a key nugget of information to keep on the back burner throughout this movie.

While writing out Confucius' Doctrine, very poorly I might add, Yuanjia has a conversation with his mother. She says that he cannot learn Kung Fu as he has asthma and his father doesn't want him to get hurt. Incensed by this, he replies that he wants to learn Kung Fu to become strong and take revenge. But, revenge on whom???
And really, that's what the first half of the movie is about.

Seconds later, Huo Yuanjia is an adult (Jet-Li). He was married (his wife died), he has a little girl that he adores and spoils to death, and he lives in the family home with his ailing, yet entirely sweet mother. His "thing" is fighting and proving how great he is. He also has taken on Huo Wushu students, though they spend the majority of their time in Nong's restaurant... getting wasted and not really learning any real Wushu.

One night, one of his students gets carried into Yuanjia'sNong asks Yuanjia to leave, pointing out that he has caused enough damage by not paying his bills and that their friendship is now over. Of course, things go terribly sour after this. Insert EPIC fight with giant swords and massive destruction:

The battle plays out. The restaurant is obliterated. The culprit is killed. Not just beat up. Straight up beat down, spleen between your ears, killed. Then, after a night of celebratory drinking, Yuanjia wakes to discover that his mother and daughter have been killed as retribution. Upset, he runs out to slay the family of his now dead opponent... only to find out that the student that got beat up... YYYYyyeah. He had man-handled and insulted the opponents wife.


(Insert emotional sucker punch #1)

Yuanjia flees the city in utter pain, despair, and loss, choosing to wander and become a hermit. He is found half-drowned by a small band of farmers. They pull him from the water and nurse him back to health. Despite the generosity of the people around him, especially the ever-so-lovely, and completely blind, Moon, he struggles with his need to be "the best". 

However, with time, gentle direction, and wise words from Moon, Yuanjia blossoms into the man his mother and father hoped he would become. 

(Insert emotional sucker punch #2)

After several years of personal healing time, he decides that he must return to his home, visit the graves of his family, mend bridges, make apologies and correct the wrongs and injustices that he created. He promises young Moon that he will return.

(Insert emotional sucker punch #3)

Upon arriving home to Jinghai, Yuanjia finds that the world he had known has changed entirely. There are "foreigners" everywhere. His home is boarded up. His childhood caregiver explains that they had to sell everything in order to keep the house... All except for the internal temple area. Nong secretly sent money to the creditors for the Huo family, so that they wouldn't lose everything in Yuanjin's absence. Yuanjin observes the 38+ awards for winning hanging on the walls, and then slowly starts taking them down and burning them in a fire, recognizing that they are of no value to him OR his family.

(Insert emotional sucker punch #4)

Note the declarations of "winning" on the wall. That's not even the 1/2 of it...

UTTERLY humbled, he visits the tombs of his parents and daughter. Insert dramatic, heart-wrenching speech here. He then visits the tomb of the man that he wrongfully killed, apologizing to the widow. Lastly, he visits Nong. In that interchange, he asks for a small loan so that he can go to Shanghai and respectfully fight a Brit who is making hateful charges against the Chinese...

"Weak men of the East"
The flip side to this fight is that, if Yuanjia wins he will walk away with prize money, which he wants to put toward his dream of a unified Wushu school (Jing Wu Athletic Association)
Though he tries to express nothing but disdain for Yuanjin at this point, Nong's lifelong brotherhood cannot be denied or overturned. He sends the money to Yuanjin. The resulting fight is nothing less than amazing. The opponent is ENORMOUS!!! I mean, at 5'6" inches in height, Li is absolutely swallowed up by 6'11" Nathan Jones (playing the role of Hercules O'Brien in this movie)
Li @ 5'6"... Jones @ 6'11"
In the end, it is actually Yuanjia that first beats, and then saves the life of Hercules O'Brien. HARDLY a weak man of Asia! (Pfffft...)


Of course, the businessmen that were making a killing off of O'Brien's wins are pissed ooooooFFFF!!! And, they ARE going to figure out how they can get back their winnings. BUT, not before dinner.

Yuanjia receives an invitation to dinner. Upon arrival he discovers that it is from him lifelong friend, Nong. Through a long, touching conversation, it is revealed that Nong believes so strongly in Yuanjia that he sells his otherwise lucrative restaurant so that he can financially back his friend in the formation of the Jing Wu Athletic Association.

(Insert emotional sucker punch #5)

Ok, so... remember those businessmen who lost tons-o-dough on the O'Brien fight? They're baAAAaaaack!!! They've returned with a proposal for a 4 on 1 fight to determine who is the champion

of all time... 

                                    AAAAALL TIME!!!!
(Spoken in a Macho Man Randy Savage voice)

Because he is an honorable man who believes in setting the record straight for China, Yuanjin accepts the fight. He and Nong talk about the potential bad outcome and the fairness of such a thing. Yuanjin then asks Nong to take over the school after the match, so that he can return to Moon, as he promised.

(Insert emotional sucker punch #6)

Before the match the Japanese fighter, Anno Tanaka (Played by Shido Nakamura) invites Yuanjin over for tea and to become acquainted with one another before the epic beatdown. Tanaka attempts to assert his superiority, much in the way that Yuanjin did in his younger years.Yuanjin's only response:

"Tea does not judge itself. Only people judge it."
Painting by Sarah Waldron

Now, the day of the fight has arrived. We look as on Yuanjin slices and dices through his opponents, one at a time in amazing feats of awesomery. The final fight is against Tanaka, the Japanese fighter that he had tea with. Tanaka recognizes the unfairness of the fight and honorably offers to reschedule. Yuanjia declines the offer, saying that it simply is time to "finish it".

Of course an amazing fight-fest unfolds, Japanese sword vs. Chinese three-sectioned staff. There's swinging, jumping, dodging, flying, slicing, and at one point and accidental exchange of weapons which turns out to be hilarious. And then, at the highest point of tension...


The round comes to a close and they return to their sections to take a break.

NOW, while no-one is watching, someone delivers a mystery cup of tea to Yuanjin. Within seconds Yuanjin is gasping for breath and coughing up blood. 

(Insert emotional sucker punch #7)

What happens now? Does the match end and Yuanjia lose? Does he just drop dead??? C'mon. This is an EPIC Jet-Li film we're talking about here!!!

After a bit of dramatic dialogue, Yuanjia clamors back up onto the stage in order to finish the match. The crowd is shouting "Stand Strong!". Tanaka offers to end the fight for his health, saying that he will not go easy on him and that his life should be valued. Yuanjia only replies with:
"This isn't about only myself."


From my perspective, the ending of the film is too complicated and epic to really properly address with the fighting, and nuances, and full circle philosophical parallels drawn between the life of Yuanjin and the writings of Confucius that his father demanded before dinner... So, I have just inserted the WHOLE final fight scene here. Get a box of tissues and prepare to get choked up. 

I'm just sayin'! 

This movie will in fact go down as one of my all time favorites. Why? The story, though obviously fictional at times, really, really, really illustrates some great and applicable truths with regard to life, gaining perspective, chosen paths, personal growth... a nice overall parallel to Chinese philosophy The cinematography is AMAZING, choreography keeps you on the edge of your seat, Jet-Li rocks in all his Kung Fu might... Are there really any OTHER reasons???

So, run out tonight. Get this movie on Netflix streaming or rent it from your local video store. You cannot get it on Amazon streaming or iTunes. It appears that there is a licensing conflict. But rent it. Rent it now!!!!

- The Mavens (Kelly & MJ)

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