Jet Li’s Fearless: Director’s Cut (Alliance, 2006) D: Ronny Yu, w/ Jet Li, Betty Sun. Rating: NNN; DVD package: NNN.
If all you want are the fights, stick to the unrated version that came out just before Christmas 2006. All you get from the extra 36 minutes in the director’s cut is character development. It does, however, improve the movie considerably.
You don’t expect character in a kung fu flick. Villains in particular get short shrift – a sneer, a taste for killing and maybe a little greed or ambition thrown in. Fearless spends its first half detailing exactly how young Huo Yuanjia (Jet Li) grows up to become a complete asshole – a doting father but a bad son, bad friend, terrible teacher and vicious competitor besotted with the crowd’s adulation.
In the best kung fu movies, fighting reveals character. Yuen Wo Ping’s choreography, Jet Li’s performance and Ronny Yu’s direction do that beautifully, with challenge matches that move from exhilaration to contempt without ever losing a sense of spectacle.
When Huo’s life goes in the toilet, the movie shifts to his gradual redemption in an isolated village. This is the part that the other versions severely chop. It’s slow, pastoral and direct in its life lessons. It’s the heart of the movie. It’s also as handsome as the city scenes – this is a high-gloss effort – and moves gracefully. Jet Li’s acting is adequate to the role.
The real-life Huo Yuanjia (1868 – 1910) was central to promoting the philosophy of kung fu as mind-body-spirit development, a key element in moving the practice into the 20th century. The movie reflects this notion very well, though much of Huo’s life has been fictionalized.
Jet Li, in the otherwise nothing-special making-of doc, talks a little about his similarity to Huo and his own spiritual beliefs, a nice touch for those who like that kind of stuff.
EXTRAS Disc one: Director’s cut. Widescreen. Mandarin audio. English, French, Spanish subtitles. Disc two: Theatrical version, extended version, making-of doc, deleted scene. Widescreen. Mandarin, English, French audio. English, French, Spanish subtitles.