Legend of the Fist
The Return of Chen Zhen

By James Burbidge

Country: China
Running time:
Directed by:
Andrew Lau
Donnie Yen

The Legend of the Fist

Director Andrew Lau (Infernal Affairs trilogy) and actor and action director Donnie Yen (Hero) should make for a potent combination, but unfortunately this take on the legendary character Chen Zhen falls flat.

Despite Zhang Yimou and Ang Lee’s efforts, expositional dialogue, poor characterisation and garbled plots have come be seen as par for the course in martial arts films. They succeed despite these flaws, usually because of some flabbergasting fight choreography and action sequences. Legend of the Fist starts off well enough, with an inventive scene that takes place somewhere in the European battlefields of World War One. Exposing a little-known history of the war, the film shows how Britain leveraged conscripts out of China and used them as ammunition runners and cannon fodder against the Germans. When Chen Zhen and his friends get stuck in a tight spot he uses his martial arts skills to take out a machine gun nest and a building riddled with Germans. This is fresh, imaginative and fun choreography.

From there however, the film moves back to Shanghai and the more familiar tropes of the genre. The Japanese are making their presence felt in Shanghai in preparation for their invasion, and the Chinese military is divided and weakened. Working with the Shanghai Mafia , the Japanese have developed a death list of Chinese patriots they want to get rid of before they make their move. With a corrupt police force unable or unwilling to act who will stand up to the despicable Japanese? Why, Chen Zhen of course, posing by day as a moustachioed entrepreneur and acting by night as some sort of masked superhero. Convoluted sub-plots intertwine as identities are hidden, double-crosses are made and motivations are mooted. Donnie Yen gets the odd run around and fight in slightly bizarre superhero scenes but there is a lot of diluting comedy, romance and political manoeuvring going on too.

When eventually, everything is more or less tied up, Chen Zhen faces off against a Japanese colonel in the dojo, after first defeating dozens of the colonel’s students. This final fight scene is solid, but not particularly impressive – it certainly doesn’t seem to be trying to outdo or bring anything new to the hundreds of similar endings that previous films have used. Synecdochically, this ending can represent the whole film – Legend of the Fist just about lives up to expectations, but don’t wait to be dazzled.

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About The Author

James Burbidge James performs a plethora of tasks for Raindance; writing articles, editing the newsletter, managing Twitter, helping on courses, organising volunteers and running the script services are but a few of the ones he is allowed to tell you about.
When he isn’t daydreaming about daylight he watches films (well, duh!) reads a bit, writes a bit and kicks arse at ultimate Frisbee.




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