Friday, March 16, 2012

Legend of the Fist - Return of Chen Zhen...

Who looks great in black leather???
This guy right here!

 This week we are going to cover the last chapter and final exploits of Chen Zhen in his quest to avenge his master Yuanjia, and bring justice to the Chinese people.  This blog is a hefty one, so buckle up and get ready for some reviewin'!

Now, it is true, Jet-Li did film a version of the Chen Zhen story in  "Fist of Legend"(1994), and true that Jackie Chan did do "Xin Jing Wu Men"/"New Fists of Fury"(1976), which is about the grandson of Yuanjia who is out to avenge his grandfather's death... 

But these are films for another time.

For now we will focus our efforts on the epic end of the Hou Yuanjia, Jing Wu Athletic Association, Chen Zhen storyline.

Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen is an absolutely epic big picture production by Director Wai-keung "Andrew" Lau (Worked with Shaw Brothers, HK. Has directed over 40 films and produced 27+. Dude has talent) The film stars our personal favorite pick, Mr. Donnie Yen (swoon), Qi Shu (lovely lady from Transporter), the incomparable Anthony Wong Chau-Sang, and the ever deadly Japanese Ryu Kohata. 

Our story picks up in 1917 in France. WWI is raging on. Chen Zhen (who obviously did NOT die when shot by the line of soldiers at the end of the last film, having blocked the bullets with his forearms of steel) has been sent to the front lines of the war to support the French with some 150,000+ other untrained Chinese men. It is implied here that they are Chinese prisoners forced into labor. In the grouping of common men, we find our hero Chen Zhen. The film opens to axis aircraft flying overhead, guns, 'splosions, Chinese and French dodging bullets and getting shot to bits...

(insert image of me making shooting gestures.) 

Chen Zhen's good friend suddenly starts WHIGGING out about dying and wanting to go back to China ASAP.  Chen Zhen tries to cool him down by giving him his Jing Wu Atheltic Association pendant for protection. The group of Chinese laborers pick up the cases of mortars and run like mad  to the fox holes dug in the middle of the street. The street you say?? Yes. This is France. They build up foxholes in the middle of the street. Go figure.


MORE gunfire and 'splosions and aircraft... the Chinese laborers reach the trenches and French hop out and make a run for the hills. WAIT, the French take off running for the hills??? (insert inappropriate joke about the French here) So, what the crap are the untrained Chinese laborers supposed to do now? 

Chen Zhen jumps out of the foxhole to save a friend who's been shot. Just then, the Germans descend on the Chinese men in the foxhole. How many men die???? Yeah. That'd be none... BECAUSE CHEN ZHEN (Donnie Yen), comes running and gives the flying knees with the punching and the bone breaking with the Kung Fu knife stabbing! 

Oh Hells NO you didn't just shoot and kill my "brother"!!!

Of course, just when you think the situation is over, his buddy gets shot between the eyes by a German soldier hiding out on the second story of a building several meters away. Does this guy taste the cold steel of revenge??? You bet yer a$$ets he does. But not before Chen Zhen makes a run through bullets, under a wall, through some flames and off a fence and...


Not only do I know Kung Fu... Not only am I really pissed off...
But NOW you're going to see me fly through the air as I come to kill you.
Shoot... we're just 6 minutes and 30 seconds into this film and I'm nearly spent! But the action doesn't stop here. He knifes a Nazi in the next, shreds another with his double daggers, cuts the Achilles tendon of another...
He slices!
He dices!
He can cut through a Nazi,
and yet still slice through this ripe tomato!!

Seriously, the brutality just continues until pretty much every possible body part on the offending Nazis has been violated with either a dagger or his fists in some way. And... that makes me feel pretty good inside.


Having sufficiently obliterated the Germans, Chen Zhen assumes the identity of his dead friend, Qi Tianyuan, to avoid being promptly returned to prison upon his arrival is China. You are then POWER launched into 1920's Shanghai where (for those of you who missed history class AND our previous two reviews) the Chinese have been left to their own devices by the Allies following the war, the Japanese are actively searching out the most effective way to take over, and Britain is chillin' on the sidelines also hoping for a piece of that invasion action.  It is here that we meet Liu Yutian (Anthony Wong Chau-Sang), an ex-cop now businessman/club owner trying to keep the peace between the Chinese and Japanese sitting on opposite sides of his dance floor, and Kiki (Qi Shu), the irresistible singer and 'hostess' at the Casablanca Club.

Check that Awesom-stache!
Disguised as Qi Tianyuan in a pencily awesom-stache, Chen Zhen goes to Casablanca and befriends Liu amidst an excellent performance by Kiki, her invisible background singers and a pretty impressive piano solo. Who knew Donnie Yen could play piano? We didn't until now, and our minds have been sufficiently blown. Liu decides in a matter of minutes that the handsome and upstanding Qi would make an excellent manager. And seriously, with an awesom-stache like that, Lui can't be wrong!
Then we find out that, having finally absorbed the lessons of his master Hou Yuanjia, Chen Zhen is part of a resistance movement (don't tell us you didn't see that coming...) and he will be using his new position to supply information to stop the Japanese invasion. And suddenly we're watching a spy flick!  How cool is that?!?!

In his new found position of espionage, Zhen finds out that there is going to be a meeting between two Chinese generals, Zhou and Zeng. Zhou is all for the unification of China, while Zeng and his father appear to be alligned with the Japanese. The Japanese have ordered Zeng to be assassinated so they can frame Zhou and incite a civil war between Zhou and Zeng's father, making it all that much easier for Japan to take over. Chen Zhen, acting quickly to prevent all hell from breaking loose, hijacks the previously seen fabulous leather costume from a store window and attacks the would-be assassins in all his masked glory, effectively mopping the street with their faces. He helps Zeng and his girlfriend to escape, but warns him that if he doesn't get his priorities straight soon, the people of China won't stand for it.

Donnie Yen is about the best runner I've EVER seen. You're convinced that he could in fact out run a cheetah. Seriously. And, whenever I see Donnie Yen run, I think
"That's so cool! I want to run like that!!!"
But no. I look like a friggin' clumsy, prehistoric T-Rex pounding down the sidewalk with my stumpy arms tucked up under me... HOPING that I don't trip and fall and kill myself in the entirely not cool process.
What I wish I looked like when I run...
 What I ACTUALLY look like when I run.


Cut to Colonel Chikaraishi, the leader of the Japanese army in Shanghai, as he explains to his "people" why they tried to kill Zeng, because they obviously have no idea how politics work. At the same time, the resistance is congratulating Chen Zhen on being freakin' awesome in his superhero getup. In turn, they decide to run a news story on the "Masked Warrior"... since the newspaper is the one thing they do control.

Covert Japanese spy dressed as a Cigarette Girl
While Chen Zhen tries to get more information from his police mole about who tried to assassinate Zeng, the Japanese are having a super secret spy meeting, where we find out that Kiki and the cigarette girl from Casablanca are actually agents for the Japanese, and Kiki promises to keep a closer eye on Qi. Then we see her send Zeng's girlfriend off into hiding, pretending to be her best friend, though she knows who tried to kill her and her man. Then as if that wasn't enough, she feigns a bit of a crush on Qi to get him to take her out to get more information about him.

Sneaky floosie. *grumble grumble*
I am a Japanese spy! I MEAN...
I am hostess Kiki of the Casablanca Club!
Now, I never knew a guy who would introduce you to his friends and family on the first date, but Qi/Zhen takes Kiki for a fun-filled evening with his war buddies. They toast their lost comrade Chen Zhen (oh the irony!), Kiki meets Qi's sister, and we get a brief explanation of how Zhen ended up in the war. There is lots of eating, drinking and making-merry, but Kiki still manages to find out that Qi is not who he says he is (stealing an old war photo in the process), and he begins to suspect shenanigans when her gun falls from her purse in the middle of the street which she then proceeds to point in his face, demanding to know who he REALLY is.

Way to be covert Kiki...

Now the Japanese, getting serious, send Col. Chikaraishi a "death list", ordering him to kill all of the people in the next month. To raise a little panic, he intentionally leaks the list, and Zhen's revolution prints it in their paper to give some fair warning. To make matters a little worse,  Chikaraishi shows up at Casablanca to confront Qi about his real identity. Qi makes it clear that he won't take any crap from the Japanese, and Liu respectfully asks the Colonel never to return to his club. All in all a pretty successful evening, if you ask me. You pretty much KNOW that a battle royale is brewing between Chen and Chikaraishi!!! (Rubs hands together in super excitement)

But then people start dying. Qi/Zhen again dons his mask and leather attempting to protect those that the police cannot (or won't...) in a fabulous montage of face-breaking and acrobatics. Watch for the guy who falls 3 floors onto his face. (55:40 into the movie)
Brutal. Just... Brutal. 
It's a Death List montage...
But the Masked Warrior can't keep up, and influential people just keep dying terrible deaths. Then, in a moment of "I fell in love with my target", Kiki tries to talk Qi/Zhen into running away with her, and Chen Zhen delivers the BEST... LINE... E-V-A-R!!!

 "Everyone Dies. It's a matter of dying for something worthy."

OH SNAP, You conflicted Japanese secret agent in sheep's clothing!!!

OOooooh... so that's what
bookshelves are for!!

Aaaaand... the battle rages on. Chen begins to realize who Kiki is and now, after a significant degree of "death list" work is done, the student protest organization headquarters is invaded by Col. Chikaraishi's kid brother and various Japanese thugs. There's bashing, bone-crunching, and blood-spooting beat-downs before Chen Zhen arrives on the scene. Then, our hero enters the scene. Joints begin bending in directions NEVER intended, and office furniture becomes a gymnastics playground as Chen Zhen DESTROYS the Japanese. 

 Everything starts to come to a head here as Chen Zhen struggles to determine whether or not he should give up Col. Chikaraishi finds out that his brother has been killed, which is akin to Chen Zhen punching a hornets nest, and Chen Zhen pieces together that his beloved Kiki is a Japanese spy. It is here that our story takes a dramatic turn for the worst!

In a heartbroken moment, Chen Zhen tells Kiki that she must never come back to Casablanca... or he will have to kill her. Upon leaving her flat, Chen Zhen is kidnapped and then savagely tortured by Col. Chikaraishi's right hand man, Gen. Fujita. 

NOTE: There's some very brutal beatings on Donnie Yen's nekkit-ness, so please don't let the kiddies watch this part.

But alas, his war buddies come to the rescue in a daring mission to blow crap up and save the day. They don't retrieve him, but cause a HUGE amount of wreckage... which is totally awesome. Chen Zhen is then dumped nekkit, bleeding, and pretty much dead just outside of the Casablanca Club. His boss, Mr. Lui quickly gets him back to his house and has doctors and nurses coming and going, attempting to piece him back together. It's like a 1920's building of the $10 million dollar man!!! In his absence, the Japanese advance on his war buddies, killing and mutilating them all... and then raping and beating his sister. 

After several tense scenes involving Kiki killing the girl formally known as her best friend, and then being given the title of General, Chen Zhen awakens and is called out to the Hongkou Dojo for that aforementioned BATTLE ROYALE. 

NOW, it is important to note here that in the film "Fists of Fury/The Chinese Connection", Chen Zhen kills the Japanese master in his Dojo. The Hongkou Dojo. Wait... What??? Could this be??? You got it. Col. Chikaraishi is the son of the previous Japanese master that got his life kicked straight out a paper wall. 

The resulting fight... AWESOME-AZING. Chen Zhen comes out in the awesome white suit, Kiki is killed by Col. Chikaraishi, the secret of the hidden Nunchuks is revealed, the dojo is pretty much trashed, and Donnie Yen's rippling muscles pretty much indicate how this whole thing is gonna end. No poker face there!

Here's the final fight scene for you to enjoy. THOROUGHLY!!!

This movie is great. It's full of broken bones, blood, espionage, guns, blood... oh wait. I already said that. 

But watch it. It's great. You can watch it on Netflix streaming, rent it from a brick and mortar, or... and I don't condone this... there is a full version on YouTube. BUT I DIDN'T TELL YOU TO DO THIS!!! ;)

- The Mavens (Kelly & MJ)

1 comment:

  1. A quick added note, because MJ was being very absentminded this week. As you watch that final fight scene, make note of the fantastic homage to Bruce Lee, with the pulsing of the surrounding attackers and the fabulous wails. Good on you, Donnie.

    And one other thing... if you ever see anyone treating books like they were in this film, please promptly smack them with a trout. Thx :)