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Awesome: 28.89%
Worth A Look48.89%
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Pretty Crappy: 2.22%
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5 reviews, 15 user ratings

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Fearless (2006)
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by Rob Gonsalves

"Jet Li sums up his life and career."
5 stars

Jet Li's "Fearless" (as it's credited in the ads and onscreen) feels like his martial-arts valedictory, the way Clint Eastwood's "Unforgiven" was his Final Statement on the Western. Both films weigh the costs of violence and revenge, and although Fearless isn't a gnarled classic like "Unforgiven," it's similarly a beloved action star's meditation on the genre that made him.

Jet Li has been working towards this film; Hero and Unleashed both expressed a certain growing reticence to fight, an urge for something deeper in life. As such, it reveals Li as a thoughtful man trying to honor his violent screen past and put it behind him, and with the help of director Ronny Yu (in probably his most restrained mode) and master fight choreographer Yuen Woo-Ping, he succeeds.

Li plays Huo Yuanjia, a real-life turn-of-the-century martial-arts master who took on various foreign fighters to defend the honor of China. Amusingly, the film's depiction of one of Huo's battles was rather more anticlimactic in real life: he was supposed to face the burly British opponent Hercules O'Brien (played here by Nathan Jones, who was also in Tony Jaa's recent The Protector), but O'Brien was a no-show. He isn't a no-show in the movie, wherein Huo fights him and ends up saving O'Brien's life. By that point, Huo has already gone through a baptism of fire and embraced a humbler, more spiritual way of life. There was a time when he would've let O'Brien die.

The movie follows Huo from his unpromising days as a hothead and terrible student to an up-and-coming master of his clan's style of Wushu fighting. Huo beats everyone, even the punk who once humiliated him when they were both striplings. He becomes arrogant, stuffed plump with drink and praise. Everyone wants to be his disciple; only a fool wouldn't. Huo is riding high, but when he faces the tough, revered Master Chin -- who lays a smackdown on one of Huo's disciples for offending his wife -- he wins the match but loses far more.

After about an hour of flashy, expertly staged fights, Fearless goes inward, finding Huo living monklike in a village, planting crops and helping a blind woman cook meals. He learns to stand still and appreciate the rush of wind through the leaves -- I am still standing, he seems to be thinking, and the wind teaches me that I am still alive. The movie becomes sedate and spiritual without losing its power. Huo must renounce the reasons he used his virtuosic skills -- glory, money -- and go back to basics. Wushu must not divide; it must unite. Fearless is a deeply Asian film, and refreshing because of it. Its drama unfolds in the gradual shift of Huo's philosophy.

Jet Li was a bit posed and stiff in Hero, but he seemed childlike and eager in Unleashed; it was at that point, I think, that he started wanting to pass on what he'd learned in life, rather than (or in addition to) just thrilling audiences by busting heads. In Fearless he gives perhaps his most engaged and engaging performance ever, running the gamut -- proud, foolish, devastated, becalmed, compassionate, grateful. His moves, as always, are savagely beautiful and, this time, more emotionally expressive.

Though not as stately as other wuxia films like "Hero" or "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," the movie manages to be eligiac and ultimately touching in its own way. It's a fine swan song.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=14938&reviewer=416
originally posted: 09/24/06 18:03:03
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User Comments

12/29/17 morris campbell good imho 4 stars
8/17/09 Spaceman Spiff A wholesome and passionate movie filled with good times and good scenes. 5 stars
11/13/07 Tony M if you're a huge jet li fan like me this movie is definitely worth watching 5 stars
3/27/07 fools♫gold I think I've seen a VERY similar martial arts film before, but this still deserves respect! 5 stars
1/28/07 Indrid Cold Well, at least the filmmakers seem to realize people only watch these for the fights. 3 stars
12/12/06 William Goss Decent fights, but familiar story is drawn out. 3 stars
11/18/06 Quigley Disappointing; shows why I'm not a Jet Li fan. Good beginning fights though. See "Ong-Bak" 2 stars
10/24/06 Drew G A lot of fun, exactly what I wanted/expected 4 stars
10/06/06 Pokejedservo This is one of my favorites for Jet Li, one of the best kung fu films I've seen in years. 5 stars
10/04/06 stonemarshall93 Great movie! Probably the best martial arts movie I have ever seen. Must see!! 5 stars
10/02/06 Alfred Guy Great fight scenes - with a little heart added. 4 stars
9/27/06 BadBoy Definately not his best film, but includes very good fight scenes! 4 stars
9/23/06 KingNeutron Slow, definitely not what I was expecting from trailers. Not his best. 3 stars
9/23/06 malcolm as good, but not as pretty, as "hero" 5 stars
8/27/06 Sumixam great fight scenes, good story 5 stars
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  22-Sep-2006 (PG-13)
  DVD: 19-Dec-2006



[trailer] Trailer

Directed by
  Ronny Yu

Written by
  Chris Chow

  Jet Li
  Collin Chou
  Nathan Jones
  Hee Ching Paw
  Betty Sun
  Nan Sun
  Anthony De Longis
  Masato Harada

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