LEGEND OF THE FIST: Return of Chen Zhen - Andrew Lau's Off Day
LEGEND OF THE FIST: The Return of Chen Zhen (drama sequel)
Cast: Donnie Yen (below), Shu Qi, Anthony Wong Chau-Sang, Shawn Yue, Yasuaki Kurata and Bo Huang
Director: Andrew Lau Wai-keung
Screenwriter: Gordon Chan
Time: 105 mins
Rating: * * (out of 4)
PREAMBLE: Could this movie be directed by Andrew Lau, the guy who helmed the epic Infernal Affairs series? I checked the closing credits just to make sure - and yes, it must be Lau's most disappointing work, his really 'Infernal Effort'. If the mood of the film isn't so serious, I would have thought that 'The Return of Chen Zhen' is a comedy, a spoof of Bruce Lee's character and his Green Hornet role.
WHAT'S IT ABOUT? The legend of Chen Zhen was born when the late Bruce Lee played him in the 1972 blockbuster, Fist Of Fury. However, the fictional Chen Zhen was resurrected lots of times including the 1994 Fist of Legend where Jet Li played him, and in the 1995 TV series, Fist of Fury with Donnie Yen as the hero.
This movie is the continuation of the TV series, taking place seven years after the apparent death of Chen Zhen who was shot after discovering the guy responsible for his teacher's death in Japanese-occupied Shanghai. Now disguising himself as a playboy businessman (albeit, with just a thin moustache), Chen Zhen (Yen) frequents the Casablanca nightclub owned by a Shanghai mob boss (Anthony Wong), planning to infiltrate the mob when they form an alliance with the Japanese. However, when Chen is not courting sultry singer Kiki (Shu Qi), he dons a black mask and takes out some Japanese hit-men who have been knocking off the Chinese named in a Death List.
HITS & MISSES: The movie opens in spectacular Bruce Lee fashion, with Chen Zhen taking out a battalion of enemy soldiers during the First World War. Next, when we see him at the Casablanca nightclub, ostensibly as a partner of the owner, tons of questions flood our mind, like where does he get the money to play the role of mysterious wealthy stranger? What does he intend to accomplish at the nightclub other than starting an affair with Kiki, who is much more than meets the eye? Then when we see him fighting the Japanese as the Masked Avenger, things start to get comical.
Well, the scriptwriters have provided some comic relief characters - in the form of bungling cops played by Huang Bo and company, but we have to take that one-man-whacks-dozens schtick with more than a pinch of salt. If you expect to see Donnie Yen flaunt more of his Ip Man stuff here, forget it. Director Lau spends more time on flashy visuals, opulent sets and lame and under-developed subplots, while Donnie Yen keeps repeating "the Chinese are not the sick men of Asia". The climactic ending recalls Bruce Lee's Fist of Fury - by now a mandatory finale of almost every effort involving Chen Zhen (so don't go spoiling for spoilers).
On the acting front, Shu Qi (pictured) helps to provide some sparks and emotional value to the proceedings while Anthony Wong does his usual Anthony Wong stuff. As for Donnie Yen, I get the feeling that he is playing Bruce Lee more than portraying his own 'Chen Zhen'. The others are just forgettable.
P.S. If you are wondering about Donnie Yen's much touted naked torture sequence, read about it here.
THE LOWDOWN: Must be Andrew Lau's off day.