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Director: Ronny Yu (2006)


In Fearless's most striking scene, Jet Li's stony features appear in a doorway and, after lingering for a moment, his linear mouth unhinges, revealing an unexpectedly toothy smile and a whinny of nasal laughter. The next close-up reveals the reason for Li's unusual flirtation with mirth: his character, it turns out, is taking some time off from fighting to enjoy a game of paper, scissors, and rock with an infant.


Li's smile is enough of a rarity to provide a justification for the film's two hours – but it's the only one. Even the unusual sight of the Jet Li grin can't revive Fearless's stale plot, amateurish acting and flat dialogue.


The movie, which represents Li's return to old-school kung fu form after his extended dalliance with Hollywood, tells the story of martial arts guru and national hero Huo Yuanjia (Li) in Shanghai in the early 1900s. Huo diligently practices his kicks from a young age (note: employ an unbearably cheeky child actor for preliminary scenes). By 18, he's won a few local competitions, but has gained mastery only over his body: he still enjoys drinking and fighting into the wee morning hours. But when Huo faces personal tragedy, he both salves his hurt and remedies his lack of mental discipline by communing with Mother Nature and a few simple rural folk (note: include the shadow of a love story with a blind country girl for variety's sake). After that, nothing can stop him: not the bear-like foreigners who loom over him in the ring, not his single-dimensional counterparts, nor even (sadly) Li's bad acting.


(That's Beijing March 22, 2006)

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