Saturday, 10 February 2007

DVD: Fearless

Lowdown: Audience force feeding through a martial arts film.
Review:
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:
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
Best scene: Jet Li fights it out with a Japanese fighter. They both respect one another, adding a bit of culture into an otherwise highly violent event.
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.

7 comments:

Wicked Little Critta said...

I liked it...

Moshe Reuveni said...

No! How can you!
I didn't really suffer watching it either.

Wicked Little Critta said...

I didn't really know what else to say after reading your review at first, and now I realize it's because most of my reactions to the points in your review were to say "So?"
I will agree with you on the nationalism front. I respect the honor that people have for their countries, blah blah blah...but I've never personally felt it, nor have I ever seen a reason for it. I saw Letters from Iwo Jima the other day, and that was something (along with war) that I couldn't get behind. I mean, my country is swell and all, but I don't think I would die for it...or even argue that it's the best. But I think that comes with our modern age of globalism, where it's harder to not know about other countries as well. I think this applies to the mindset in Fearless.
You said that the story wasn't that original. I say, so what? It was original enough to keep me interested, and that I didn't know exactly what would happen. Besides, most stories are remakes of older ones.
I also say "so what?" to the lack of subtlety. I don't have a problem with it if the film doesn't end up making me feel like an idiot.
And in regards to martial arts and violence in general, we've already discussed this. :)

Moshe Reuveni said...

If you want an argument you won't get it, simply because all of your points are valid. There is no pure objective reason why the film would be bad or good, it's all a matter of subjective perception.
If anything, I'm glad you liked it, as it means you didn't feel it was a waste of time (not that I really suffered watching this).
I can also say with a lot of confidence that if I was to watch Fearless several years ago I would have liked it a lot; but things change and tastes change.
I mean, if people can honestly say that Indiana Jones 3 is better than the first two - a notion that makes me want to puke because I realy love the first 2 - then we are perfectly entitled to have a difference of opinion on this one, a much "minor" film.

Moshe Reuveni said...

Ok, here's a bit of an argument regarding your point on nationalism.
Yes, 100 years ago people had different perceptions to ours about such issues. But... when making a film that's supposed to be relevant for today's audience, you're sort of expected to make it so that it would be relevant for today. Obviously, no one can force you to do it this way, but if you want to strike a chord with modern day audiences that's what you do. And indeed, most films based on historical events act this way. It does tend to come as pretty artificial most of the time (the classic example is The Patriot, with Mel Gibson being such a lovely owner of slaves), but then again that's the difference between a bad film and a better one: the handling of those problematic affairs.
Again, you can easily argue that my point here is subjective yet again, and I will fully agree to that. What I will say, though, is that for me to be able to truly like a film I need to be able to identify with what it is trying to say; in Fearless I wasn't. You pointed at the reason for that, I'm just saying that knowing the reason doesn't make the film any better for me.

Did this make sense? Haven't really slept much at night...

Wicked Little Critta said...

You're right, it's a minor difference. And this was a sad attempt at an argument. We'll have to work on this.
I'll try again: not sleeping at night? This is an unacceptable way to live. You MUST sleep at night. I insist you agree with me.

Moshe Reuveni said...

Never will I surrender to your American imperialism! I will keep my dignity high and take pleasure in my sleep deprivation freedom!

On a lesser stupid note, I think this means that my review was not that bad. The fact that I explained why I didn't like the film has allowed others to think for themselves on whether they would like it or not.