There was a time, not that many years ago, when through an eclipse like effect I grew fond of martial arts films and watched them one after the other. At that time Jet Li was my favorite action hero of the genre, although to be honest his only film that I consider to be good is Hero (a film I saw only several years after my personal martial arts fad has subsided). Watching Fearless - the latest Jet Li martial arts film - in this day and age made me realize why my affection to the martial arts genre was not long lasting.
The story behind Fearless is very simple, and on paper quite a beautiful one. Jet Li starts as the arrogant spoiled child, the son of a rich martial arts master who has everything and doesn't really need to make an effort. As he grows up his sole ambition is to be recognized as the best martial arts fighter in his county, and he doesn't care much about how he achieves that. But he does achieve it, on the way losing everything else that he had, which causes him to run away from everything. He starts from scratch as a poor peasant, slowly learns what is really important in life, and then makes a comeback as a true martial arts hero that puts China on the map. You see, the character the film is based on is real (although I don't know if what takes place in the film is real, too): early in the 20th century the character fought against representatives of the colonial empires that controlled China at the time, showing them that the Chinese are not to be messed with.
So - what is wrong with the film? Well, here we go:
- Nationalism: I don't see myself giving the nod to a film that promotes nationalism. True, the Chinese have been wronged, but so have most of the other nations on this planet. That said, nationalism is not that high in the film's agenda.
- Story: Am I the only one to notice that this type of a story is not that original? It's a case of "been there, done that" with better interpretations.
- Violence: Most of the people watching the film will watch it because of the martial arts fights. True, they are nicely choreographed, but in this age of the Matrix they are nothing we haven't seen before. Creativity and originality aside, as well as respect to the Chinese culture of martial arts, I fail to understand how violence can be put with such a central place in a culture and be considered as a positive trait. Yes, even in a controlled and disciplined way as it is when martial arts are done the right way, which, by the way, is not the way most of the people watching the film would like it to be. Simply put, violence - regardless of shape and color - is ugly. Just think of where humanity might have reached if all the effort spent on martial arts would have been spent on more constructive issues.
- Subtlety: By far my worst problem with the film was the very not subtle way in which it told its story and delivered its message of "oh, just look at how this noble hero of ours has been transformed into pure good from pure shit". With the way the story is told there is simply no room for free thought on behalf of the viewer; everything is said out loud. It's as if the story is being told to an audience of five year olds.
Picture quality: I would say it's impeccable. It's quite rare to see a job so well done.
Sound quality: The surrounds could have been used more; as it is, the film is not as gripping as it should have been.
Overall: You'll probably enjoy the fights, especially if this is the type of thing that turns you on, but the film itself is nothing we haven't seen before. 2 stars.