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Fearless

Film Four Stars

I was superbly eager to see this movie, I'm a fan of martial arts on screen, particularly when it's something special and mixed with a good story and a big budget. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Hero, House of the Flying Daggers are films that really carry all these elements and produce something particularly special.

So with the announcement that this was Jet Li's last martial arts movie, and with the story being a true tale of courage, strength and one of the most influential characters in Chinese martial arts history, I was excited. This promised to be something special, and to give us perhaps the finest performance from Li of his career.

Then, within the first twenty minutes, things seemed to be going horribly wrong.

Fearless.jpgFirst up, many thanks again to the superb Edinburgh Ocean Terminal Vue Cinema and the very helpful staff for giving me help with reviewing this film. The sound was excellent in the screen, very close to the separation I get at home on my very finely tuned Home Cinema setup. Excellent screens, well worth checking out if you're in Edinburgh.

The film begins very slowly and quite weakly. The story is pretty much stock, and features some over acting from the kids which almost turns a little too comic. This whole first section is filled with moments that go slightly too far and do feel like traditional Chinese martial arts movies. Seeing this I did begin to get concerned that Li's last movie was not going to be the epic last film that I had expected.

Then comes a darker moment, when the story turns more serious. It's something that's actually been happening as the film progresses, but just in small measures, but there's a defining moment when the picture turns serious in a few short scenes, and that's where the film turns. From this point it becomes much stronger and builds to a powerful ending.

I became very caught up in the ending and in particular the emotion of it. The feeling of pride of both the Chinese and Japanese characters is evident, and after the slow building of the story to this point it particularly hits home, and it's that slow building story that is the cause of this emotional involvement.

From the moment it turns darker is when the story really manages to grab you and pull you in. From this point where the characters share their pain with you, the story works on strengthening the characters and building that belief in them. Overall it's a simple tale, but a very well written and visualised one.

So, what about the fight scenes I hear you ask. Well they are something special, and a few are mind blowing. Those who read a lot of my reviews know that I do have a particular hatred of the Hollywood method of filming fight scenes. They tend to push the camera right into the action, face close, and then pepper the scene with faster cuts than you can keep up with. This means it hides the fake thrown punches and misses with weapons, and fools you into thinking the actors were in on the action and not the stuntmen. None of that is present in this movie.

The camera is often pulled back to show both characters in the same shot, and failing that it shows pulls back to show the fighter standing full length. You can see that these guys are doing all the stunts, and right in front of your eyes. Although you can easily spot some of the wire work, it's not that distracting and adds that mystical level to the fighting.

It's hard to believe that Li wants to give up the martial arts onscreen at this point because in this movie it looks like he's on the top of his game. The fights range from hand to hand combat to some serious weaponry, and Li seems the master of them all.

During some of these fight scenes, especially those where Li is brandishing some weaponry, I found myself getting quite tense and even holding my breath at some points. I was quite surprised to find how tense I was when the fight scene was over. They are perhaps some of the most intense I've ever seen.

Another surprising part of the film is the acting. From the overacting at the start of the film, the performances become restrained and emotionally strong, and Li gives perhaps the best performance of his career portraying a man who begins with so much anger and torture inside to someone at peace with his life, travelling through a range of emotions on the way there.

The film is not as beautifully framed and coloured as Hero or Flying Daggers, but you get the feeling that this is a very deliberate move to create a feeling of realism and of an historical tale. It does work and gives a firm feeling of being set in reality.

Over all Fearless is a superb martial arts movie, and yet it's much more bringing Li's strongest performance filled with emotion and pain, but ultimately great hope. It's an excellent ending to Li's martial arts career (although that card may have been played too early with Rogue round the corner).


Trailers:
Stay alive
See the Ultraviolet review.

Harsh Times
See the Ultraviolet review.

Snakes on a Plane
See the The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift review.

The Sentinel
The first time I've seen this trailer on the big screen, and it looks good. Surprisingly there's years fallen off of Michael Douglas during this trailer, and for me the two leads of Keifer Sutherland and Douglas look like they are going to work superbly well together. These two leads have me very interested in this film

Banlieue 13 (District 13)
I hadn't really appreciated what this film was about when I saw the Internet trailer, then seeing it in the cinema and understanding the voiceover, I am very excited. I loved Escape from New York, and this is exactly the same story, but with Parkour (not the floor tiling) and some superb looking stunts. Something you notice throughout this is that the camera is always moving, and moving with the action. It looks like this is going to be full on from beginning to end, and there's absolutely no way it looks like it's going to let up.


Edinburgh Ocean Terminal Vue Cinema
UK IMDB Film Details





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Comments

One of my favourites of the year so far. I reckon it'll wind up being this year's crossover hit like Hero or Crouching Tiger, except this has been made by a real genre director rather than an arthouse director who's just dabbling in the form for a while.

I was stunned by the audible ferocity of the fights myself. These are some of the most audibly crunchy fights I've seen.

The fights are amazing, particularly once the story turns darker. Li is a stunning martial artist and really gets to show it here.

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