R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir Ronny Yu
scr Christine To, Chris Chow
with Jet Li, Nakamura Shido, Dong Yong, Betty Sun, Masato Harada, Bao Qijing, Collin Chou, Nathan Jones, Jean Claude Leuyer, Brandon Rhea, Anthony De Longis, Somluck Kamsing
release Chn 26.Jan.06,
UK 23.Jun.06, US 22.Sep.06
06/China 1h44

War and peace: Nakamura and Li (above); Li and Sun (below)

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Fearless This film avoids expectations to tell the remarkable true story of a man who changed the way the world perceives China--and the way China sees itself. Not only is it a gripping, beautifully acted drama, but the action scenes are jaw-dropping.

Huo Yuanjia (Li), the son of a martial arts master (Chou), grows up cocky and bull-headed, storming through life conquering anyone in his path until a particularly brutal victory causes his life to implode. He heads into the countryside, where he's nursed back to life by a blind girl (Sun). Years later, he returns with a new understanding: that martial arts are about peace, not violence. And as the world begins to exploit China, he sets about uniting the various arts as one.

The story is framed around a 1910 showcase match in which Yuanjia took on four of the world's best fighters--a British boxer (Leuyer), a Spanish swordsman (De Longis), a German soldier (Rhea) and, most notably, a Japanese master (Nakamura). The true meaning of this scene unfurls through Yuanjia's life story, a remarkable odyssey of mistakes and understanding. This isn't a typical wuxia hero; he's a complicated man who grows before our eyes into someone vitally important. And Li plays him with exactly the right mix of strength and serenity.

Of course, Li also does his own stunts, and at age 42 (the same age as Yuanjia in 1910) he still has a terrific physicality. As he faces each opponent, we see his character growing and deepening until that defining four-part climax. Each fight is bracingly unique, drawing on different strengths or weaknesses. And they're choreographed by Yuen Wo Ping with a combination of rough authenticity and master showmanship.

And there's more to it than a gritty action movie or the epic tale of a nation finding its soul. This is also an introspective drama about a man facing the cycle of violence within himself--taking the time to make sense of his hollow victories and then do something with his life as a result. As the film builds to its thrilling, startling conclusion, Yuanjia's life has the power to inspire us too.

cert 15 themes, violence 7.Jun.06

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... Fearless scotty, sydney, australia: 5/5 "Wow. That sums up the film. This is the film that Jet Li needed to do all his life. Beautiful in every way, this film made me gasp, shout, hide, cringe and cry all at the same time, and thats something everyone everywhere should feel once in their lives. Do yourself a huge favour and see this movie now. Even if youre not a Martial Arts fan. This movie has so much more than flashy fight scenes, it teaches morals and respect, a great family film even if a bit violent once or twice." (12.Sep.06)
2006 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall