Jing wu ying xiong [1994]

Like compatriot Jackie Chan, martial arts champion Jet Li has long been revered in his native country and enjoys a cult following in the States among aficionados of Hong Kong cinema. After two decades, it took his villainous turn in Lethal Weapon 4 to put him on the Hollywood map, paving the way for the release of his earlier films. Fist of Legend is a 1994 production and a remake of The Chinese Connection (also known as Fists of Fury, which starred the greatest martial arts legend of them all, Bruce Lee). This film is set in 1937, when Shanghai was occupied by the Japanese and racial tensions were high. Li stars as Chen Zhen, who returns to Shanghai to avenge the death of his master, whom he learns was poisoned. His popular freestyle fighting technique and Japanese girlfriend do not endear him to his former friend, now his master's successor at the martial arts school. If Jackie Chan is inspired by Buster Keaton, Li seems to be channeling Steve McQueen. He speaks softly and carries a big kick. And like Steven Seagal, even when he is under siege by a horde of attackers, no one can lay a finger on this guy. The dialogue and dubbing are atrocious, but the fight sequences are incredible (they were choreographed by Yuen Woo-ping, who lent his expertise to The Matrix). Perhaps most memorable is a bout between Chen and his girlfriend's uncle during which the combatants wear blindfolds. This is essential viewing for martial arts buffs and Li's growing legion of fans. --Donald Liebenson

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