China/Hong Kong/USA 2006
Director: Ronny Yu
Until Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was released in 2000, wuxia (Chinese martial arts) films were relatively low-profile in genre cinema, at least in the West. Though popular and prolific in Hong Kong and China, wuxia films never managed to attract mainstream attention in North America. Crouching Tiger brought this kinetic and historical form of martial arts film to a wider audience, creating awareness and a new demand for wuxia. Hero, House of Flying Daggers, and now Fearless followed, creating a new sub-genre of prestige wuxia, expansive and high-budget, films that appeal to both a Western and Chinese audience.
Fearless follows the precedent set by Crouching Tiger and the others, combining elaborate and well-choreographed martial arts action with stories of revenge, honour, and redemption. Unlike Crouching Tiger, however, which was based on a series of wuxia novels, the story of Fearless isn’t as compelling or powerful. This is interesting, considering that Fearless is based on a true story.
Director Ronny Yu, recently busy with Hollywood horror films such as The Bride of Chucky and Freddy Vs. Jason, does an acceptable job. The action sequences are exciting and well-edited, but the film feels slicker than most wuxia, more Hollywood. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Fearless is an American co-production and will be in North American multiplexes in the fall.Crouching Tiger and Hero offer a more calm and reflective approach, something that would’ve benefitted this film.
The action sequences are amazing, fight choreography courtesy of Woo-ping Yuen, legendary martial arts choreographer. The wire-work is kept to a mininum, with a more realistic approach than seen in Crouching Tiger, among others (bear in mind “realistic” is a relative term, however; the fight scenes in Oldboy, for instance, were much more realistic, though not nearly as intricate or exciting).
Jet Li has said that Fearless will be his last wuxia film, explaining he has nothing left to explore in the genre. If so, Fearless would serve as a fitting tribute to the innovative genre, a genre that gave Jet Li his long career.Colin Le Sueur