Related Articles: Movies, All

Jet Liís Fearless

Legendary Li Makes Graceful Exit

If Fearless is indeed Jet Liís final martial-arts movie, as he has recently claimed, then it is a fitting swan song to a storied career. Sure, its approach is familiar: a young, immature hothead dreams of becoming a fighting champion, ignoring his fatherís constant reminders that violence is best avoided. He becomes a champion, surrounds himself with sycophantic cronies and parades about the city, always looking for his next fight. Soon enough, he gets his comeuppance, loses everything and retreats to the countryside in disgrace -- only to experience a spiritual rebirth and learn, too late, his fatherís lesson.

Itís a storyline that has become a staple of the martial-arts genre, and Fearless slips into it like a pair of well-worn sneakers. The hothead, in this case, is Huo Yuanjia (Li), who fights first for personal glory, then later in life for his country. Neither Huo nor his lifelong friend Nong (Dong Yong) are pleased when their native China is derided by Japan and much of the Western world as the Sick Man of the East. It is then that Huo, eager to fight for the honor of his countrymen, enters his final bout.

Expertly choreographed by Yuen Wo Ping (Unleashed), Fearless features some of Liís finest, most elegant fights to date. At 43, Li remains a dazzling performer. He has lost none of his fluid athleticism, making his acrobatic leaps and chops something to behold. Yet Li, unlike so many martial-arts prodigies, is also a charismatic actor, and itís hard not to be won over by his boyish smile. Even as an arrogant, impudent young man, Huo has an easy charm that overshadows his boorishness. He redeems himself, but is betrayed and murdered in the last act. As with Li, itís sad to see him go.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars