First off let me say that I have never been this excited for the Toronto International Film Festival ever since I came to Toronto. I have a great lineup of screenings to attend and I will try my darn hardest to write and vlog about every one of them! Yesterday was my first TIFF day and I had two screenings; Andrew Lau’s Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen and Kim Tae-yong’s Late Autumn.
WARNING: The following review may contain spoilers to Andrew Lau’s Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen!
Return of Chen Zhen is a continuation of the 1995 ATV series Fist Of Fury in which Donnie Yen reprises his role as Chen Zhen, the fictional martial arts hero first made famous by Bruce Lee in the original film also titled Fist Of Fury (1972). Before the screening began, one of the TIFF curators told us that Andrew Lau, the director, will have a few words with us at the end of the film, and also explained that one of the key reasons why he made this film was to pay tribute to the legendary Bruce Lee, since this year would be Lee’s 70th birthday. And boy can you see that in the film.
Since Return of Chen Zhen is the theatrical sequel to the 1995 TV series, one would expect it to be more grounded and more traditional in the sense of a martial arts period piece. But instead, what Andrew Lau gave us was Chinese action-hero flick with awesome martial arts toppings. The film opens in World War I France with the introductory text explaining how many Chinese workers were sent to Europe to help the Allied forces to fight against there enemies. Chen Zhen was one of those workers. Having the film start in a very real and historic context such as World War I, gave the audience a firm stance rooted in the potential realism this new film would bring contrary to its Fist of Fury predecessors. But these presumptions were quickly shattered, in a great way, when a superhuman action sequence ensued. Chen Zhen utilized the use of bayonet knives to take out an infantry of enemy soldiers who were located on the second floor of a building by running at a 30-degree angle, using fences as trampolines, and the knives to climb up a wall, all the while casually dodging an array of heavy gunfire. After this shockingly good sequence, it was safe to throw away any stereotypes one would think of when expecting a kung-fu World War I film.
It goes without saying, especially after the introductory martial arts-trench warfare hybrid battle, that this film has more style than substance. But even with that said, every actor held their ground to give convincing dramatic performances. One key element that differed from the original 1972 film was the sense of vigilante justice. It was this key factor that made me want to classify this film as a Chinese action-hero film. Chen Zhen returns to Japanese-occupied Shanghai on the brink of the Japanese Empire beginning invasion across Asia and beyond. Not allowing a foreign force to dictate his once loved Shanghai, Chen Zhen puts on a new identity and even a costume to fight back against the city’s oppressors. I’ll try refrain from saying what the costume is but Andrew Lau did explain afterwards that it was not an homage to The Green Hornet, but to a well known trait in Hong Kong martial arts cinema. Lastly, I really enjoyed the presence of four languages in the film, although it wasn’t significant, it showed the early international nature of post-WWI Shanghai. However it is not necessarily a good kind of international.
Throughout the film many Bruce Lee references can be seen, from his classic war cry to his iconic nun-chucks straight from the original 1972 film. Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen did a very accomplished job in paying a tribute to the greatest martial arts icon in modern history. Who needs a cape to be a superhero when you can fight like Bruce Lee. Hell, he IS a superhero.
Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen will be released in Hong Kong on September 23rd.
PS: Stay tuned for my TIFF review on Kim Tae-yong’s Late Autumn!