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Film / Fist of Legend

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Fist of Legend (Chinese: 精武英雄; pinyin: Jīng Wǔ Yīngxióng; literally "Hero of Jingwu") is a 1994 Hong Kong martial arts film directed by Gordon Chan, starring Jet Li, and with fight scenes choreographed by Yuen Woo-ping. It is a remake of the 1972 Bruce Lee film Fist of Fury.

Set in Shanghai International Settlement in 1937 during the Second Sino-Japanese War as the city is occupied by Japanese forces, Chen Zhen (Li) is a student of the Jingwu School of martial arts studying abroad in Japan at the start of the film. When he gets devastating news that the master of the school, Huo Yuanjia, has been killed back at home in a match with a Japanese martial artist, he heads back to Shanghai. Seeking out and combating the martial artist that defeated Yuanjia himself, he determines that the the man could never have beaten Yuanjia on fair terms, and that therefore foul play must be at work. Sure enough, digging up Yuanjia's body, it is discovered that he was poisoned before the fight. But why? And by who? Before Zhen can find out, however, the fighter that defeated Yuanjia turns up murdered, and he must contend with the authorities who suspect that he did it. He also must contend with Jingwu School itself, which is none too pleased when it discovers Zhen has fallen in love with a Japanese woman.

The film, thankfully, tones the rather virulent anti-Japanese sentiment that was present in the original film down a bit. Whereas the conflict between China and Japan is still a theme, it's portrayed in a less-cartoonish one-sided light, and there are several noble Japanese characters.

See also the movie Fearless (2006), a sort of loose Spiritual Successor with its own continuity, where Li plays the master Huo Yuanjia himself note 

Has a similarly named semi-reboot prequel in 2010.

This film provides examples of:

  • Actually Pretty Funny: When Mitsuko testifies that Chen was in her hotel room on the night when Akutegawa was murdered ("We were awake in bed the whole time, what else would we do?"), the Japanese side of the courtroom bursts out laughing.
  • Anti-Villain:
    • Akutegawa is a bit of a sore loser when Chen Zen starts getting the better of him, but he notably shows respect to Chen Zen when multiple other Japanese characters had displayed racist contempt for Chen and other Chinese. Akutegawa also insists on fighting fair, and he's distraught when he learns that Master Huo was poisoned before their fight, rendering his victory against Huo meaningless.
    • Fumio Funakoshi apologises for the violence and racism of his students attacking Chen Zhen at the start of the movie, and expresses sympathy for the recent death of Chen's master. When they have their battle later, both show respect to one another and it is Fumio who stops their fight to the death out of respect even though he has Chen in a death grip, and Chen himself admits that he lost the fight.
    • Really, other than General Fujita and the traitorous student, almost every single antagonist in the movie is an Anti-Villain one way or the other. Most of them are Unwitting Pawns of the former and even the most bigoted and racist characters on either side sincerely believe that the other is guilty of murder because of a Frame-Up, or in the case of the Japanese ambassador or the cook who poisoned Master Huo, they were manipulated or forced into the murder plot.
  • Apothecary Alligator: A kung fu master uses dried crocodile to treat his asthma, knowledge of which is used to poison him.
  • Asshole Victim: Near the end, General Fujita brings out the Jingwu student who helped to poison Master Huo. Considering that the student's accomplice, the Jingwu school's cook, had more sympathetic reasons for agreeing to poison Master Huo (his son was being held captive), the traitorous Jingwu student simply comes off as The Quisling and a Dirty Coward. It's next to impossible to feel bad when Fujita puts a bullet in the traitor's head.
  • Authority Equals Asskicking:
    • General Fujita. His qualifications for leading the army apparently consist of shooting people and blocking attacks with his face.
    • As you might expect, the best martial artists at Jingwu get the most respect. However, Huo Ting-An is the actual headmaster and is inferior to Chen Zhen. There's some difficulty between them when the students start favoring Chen Zhen's ability above Ting-An's authority.
  • Authority in Name Only: The Japanese military ignores the authority of the representative of their civilian government until Fujita's death.
  • Awakening the Sleeping Giant: Discussed between Funakochi and the Japanese ambassador while they are playing Go. The latter brings up the fable of an ant attacking a sleeping elephant and worries that Japan is the ant (albeit a powerful one) against the sleeping elephant that is China.
  • Awesomeness by Analysis: Discussed and invoked. Fumio considers the ability to adapt as being the most valuable skill a fighter can have, and showcases it by learning and demonstrating Chen's kickboxing style mid-fight. Later, Chen would take the lesson to heart, and mimic Fujita's direct and brutal style to finally level the playing field.
  • Back for the Finale: Before Ting-An leaves for the final duel with General Fujita, Chen shows up to fight alongside him.
  • Badass Decay: In-Universe, Jingwu School is viewed as a laughingstock after Huo Yuanjia's death. Its reputation rises after Chen Zhen defeats Akutegawa.
    • Ting-An suffers this while still recovering from his Heroic BSoD, slipping-up during practice drills.
  • Big Bad: General Fujita (played by former kickboxing champion Billy Chow).
  • Big Damn Heroes: At Chen's trial, Chinese witnesses are not allowed (due to Chen's popularity in Shanghai) so the Japanese Mitsuko testifies on his behalf to get him acquitted.
  • Bowdlerise: The English-dubbed Miramax version tones down the Grey-and-Gray Morality:
    • When Mitsuko asks Chen if he hates the Japanese, he reassures her that he doesn't (originally he said "I don't know").
    • When Akutegawa argues with Fujita over the murder of Huo and the meaning of the Samurai spirit, Fujita's Jerk Justifications are different—in English, he's a sociopath who argues it's about Might Makes Right and winning at all costs; in the original, he's a fanatic who believes in absolute devotion to the Emperor even if it means going down in history as a criminal.
    • When Chen and Fumio debate about martial arts, Fumio agrees that the purpose of martial arts is to defeat the opponent. In the original, Fumio disagreed, stating that guns work better while martial arts are for personal development.
    • The "Sick Man of Asia" sign is translated as "Jingwu is closed"
    • The ending: Chen says he'll go to be with Mitsuko, whereas in the original, he's heading to Tangshan to fight the Japanese.
  • Combat Pragmatist:
    • General Fujita is one of the best fighters in the film, but he isn't above shooting people in cold blood or having opponents poisoned to win at all costs in spite of his own great strength and skill.
    • Fumio uses some cagey tactics in his duel with Chen Zhen, stalling several times and then suddenly attacking all-out to put the Chinese fighter on his heels. Afterwards, when Chen and Fumio have a debate on martial arts, the latter states the best way to win a fight is to use guns, and argues that the true goal of martial arts is personal and spiritual development.
    • Chen Zhen ruffles some feathers when he introduces elements of Japanese martial arts to the Chinese martial arts school on the grounds of it working, and he also uses Western boxing without naming it.note  While far less underhanded and ruthless about it than someone like General Fujita, he adheres to the philosophy that in a fight, you should do what it takes to win. In the final battle, when Fujita pulls out a sword, Chen counters by pulling out his belt.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle:
    • Chen Zhen vs. Akutegawa. This actually has plot relevance, since Chen realizes that if he can defeat Akutegawa so effortlessly, his master's loss could only be explained by some sort of sabotage.
    • General Fujita beats Ting-An to a pulp without any of Ting's blows having any effect, establishing Fujita as a threat. This is while Fujita is standing completely still with one hand occupied by holding up a sign.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: The Chinese and Japanese are expressly racist towards each other (barring a few exceptions).
    • Even Chen is not immune to this: When Mitsuko asks if he hates the Japanese, he responds "I don't know" (in the English dub, he tells her that he doesn't).
  • The Determinator: Chen and General Fujita both exhibit this during the final duel. Both take a huge amount of punishment and both look disbelievingly when their opponent gets up yet again to continue the fight.
  • Dirty Business: Chen goes against the wishes of Jingwu, especially Ting-An by having Huo Yuanjia's corpse exhumed for autopsy. He is validated when the doctor confirms Huo was poisoned.
  • Disc-One Final Boss: At first, Chen seeks revenge against Akutegawa for killing his master, but the latter is revealed to be an Unwitting Pawn for General Fujita, who kills him soon after.
  • Dramatic Dislocation: Twice. First, when Zhen challenges Akutegawa (foot), and when Zhen fights Fujita (shoulder). Both times, the dislocation is self-repaired.
  • Duels Decide Everything: Chen investigates the death of his master by dueling Akutegawa. Chen earns the respect of his girlfriend's uncle by dueling him. General Fujita challenges Ting-An to a duel for ownership of Jingwu, and Chen Zhen ultimately ends the Japanese threat to Jingwu by dueling Fujita.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Chen Zhen's first scene has him defeating a group of karate students trying to force him out of Kyoto University, establishing his martial skill and cultural assertiveness.
  • Everyone Has Standards: As soon as Akutegawa finds out Fujita sabotaged his match against Master Huo by poisoning the latter, he's furious and accuses Fujita of being dishonorable, only to get killed by Fujita in return as soon as he laid hands on him.
  • Eye Scream: A mild example in that one of the first attacks that actually affects Fujita is when Chen Zhen brushes Fujita's eye with the back of his fingertips. Fujita has difficulty seeing out of it for the remainder of the fight.
  • Forbidden Love: Both Chen and Ting-An are in socially taboo relationships. The former because Chen's Love Interest is Japanese and the latter because Ting-An's lover is a prostitute.
  • Four-Star Badass: "Killing Machine" Fujita is the leader of the Japanese forces in China as well as the strongest Japanese martial artist in the country.
  • Fox News Liberal: The only sympathetic member of the Japanese government spends a lot of his time criticizing Japan's occupation of China.
  • Frame-Up: Fujita frames Chen for Akutegawa's murder, but once the case makes it to court, the frame job looks pathetically weak. Among other things, one of the false witnesses provided claims that he saw Chen stab the victim when the man died of a broken spine.
  • Groin Attack: Chen delivers an Offhand Backhand to an enemy's crotch. That whole fight sequence has plenty of groin attacks, mostly administered to students foolhardy enough to try to deliver a flying kick to Chen's head.
  • Heel–Face Door-Slam: The Jingwu cook poisoned Huo because his son was held hostage and he got a lot of money for the deed. After he starts to regret the aftermath of Huo's death, the other Jingwu traitor strangles him.
  • A Hero to His Hometown: Chen becomes a local celebrity in Shanghai practically overnight after defeating Akutegawa. This is used against him at his trial to disallow any Chinese witnesses.
  • Hero with Bad Publicity: Chen Zhen's reputation is ruined after his relationship with the Japanese Mitsuko is exposed. He and Mitsuko are unable to find housing in Shanghai so they are forced to stay in an abandoned temple near Huo Yuanjia's grave.
  • Heroic BSoD: After losing to Chen, Ting-An gives up the title of headmaster, hides away in a brothel and develops an opium addiction (the latter is shown in the Taiwanese version). He's snapped out of it when his lover finally contacts Jingwu, which persuades him to go back.
  • The Hero Dies: Subverted! Chen offers his life for killing Fujita (whose death would've been used by Japan as a Pretext for War). Instead, the Japanese ambassador helps Chen fake his death and escape Shanghai.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: Fumio Funokoshi is a fictional character, but he is depicted as senior member of the real-life Black Dragon Society who is unusually tolerant and respectful of Chinese people, particularly Chen Zhen, and apologises for the racism and bigotry of his students. The actual Black Dragon Society was a hardline ultranationalist paramilitary organization involved in crime, espionage and murder, and had several high-ranking members in the Japanese government who were the prime movers of Japan's aggressive foreign policy. Funokoshi should really be the most racist and bigoted character in the movie, and worst still, had he been a real person, might even have been involved in masterminding the invasion of Shanghai itself!
    The film touches on this by having Funokoshi argue that the Black Dragon has become corrupt and lost its way, but in reality they were always involved in political extremism and pan-Asianism. Funokoshi himself is likely based on its founder Ryōhei Uchida, who was also a famous martial arts master, although his name and personality comes from Gichin Funakoshi, the founder of Shotokan style Karate.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Ting-An's girlfriend is a high-class prostitute, so he feels the need to keep their relationship a secret. When Ting-An goes through a Heroic BSoD, he holes up with her and she eventually outs their relationship to the school in order to get him the help he needs to snap out of it. She then takes up residence at Jingwu, happily leaving her pretty dresses and high class trappings behind.
  • Hope Spot: At one point, Fujita has a cut above his eye, and Chen waits till a drop of blood is about to drip into his eye, then attacks...but...ouch.
  • I Will Wait for You: Mitsuko leaves Chen before the final duel, with a message that she'll wait for him in Japan after there is peace between their countries.
  • Improvised Weapon: Belt vs. Katana. It seems like it should be a complete mismatch, and it is. Just not the way you would expect.
  • Incoming Ham: See the English dub of this film for the single most overstated instance of the exclamation "Bullshit!" in the history of film.
  • Interchangeable Asian Cultures: The conflict between Chinese and Japanese cultures is the central theme, but in several scenes, someone mistakes Chen Zhen as being Japanese. Both villainous Japanese martial artists are played by Chinese actors.
  • Kangaroo Court: Chen's trial for murdering Akutegawa is comically one-sided, as Chinese witnesses aren't allowed, and even though the Japanese witnesses were offering contradictory Blatant Lies, the case was still somehow going against Chen until Mitsuko testified on his behalf.
  • Kingpin in His Gym: The Big Bad General Fujita gets a scene showing him training by hammering nails into boards with his bare palms, smashing slabs of rock, and letting a team of students break thick wooden rods over his body, to establish his overwhelming power and resilience in combat.
  • Lighter and Softer: Compared to the original Fist of Fury, the conflict between the Chinese and Japanese is presented as less black-and-white and there are sympathetic characters on both sides (although the Japanese military are definitely the villains). Chen Zhen is also far less bloodthirsty and bent on revenge than in the previous movie and gets a happier ending, and the lighting and sets of each film are on opposite ends of the Sliding Scale of Shiny Versus Gritty.
  • Let's Get Dangerous!: Whenever Chen swaps to his kickboxing style, he's fighting to win. Just ask Ting-An. Notably, it doesn't always work, when Fumio copies it he beats Chen handily (though insists it's a draw), and against General Fujita it barely grazes him.
  • Made of Iron: General Fujita's main strength is his ability to shrug off blows. Only Chen manages to crack him.
    • When instructing at Jingwu, Chen emphasizes the importance of being able to withstand powerful attacks while also dishing them out.
  • Never Bring a Knife to a Fist Fight: In the final fight, as Fujita's losing, he pulls a katana and gets his ass handed to him even worse before Chen kills him with his own sword.
  • No-Sell: General Fujita is completely unfazed by all of Ting-An's blows and it takes several attempts before Chen Zhen lands a blow that actually hurts him.
  • Offhand Backhand: Possibly one of the most brutal examples of all time, when Zhen goes for the no-look crotch grab and throws his attacker by his man-region.
  • Omniglot: In the original dub, Chen speaks at least three languages: Cantonese, Japanese and English.
  • One Free Hit Subverted. In the middle of the fight with Chen, General Fujita pointedly drops his guard and invites Chen to hit him. Given that Fujita has repeatedly done a No-Sell both in real fights and during training, one might think he's going to take Chen's best shot and No-Sell it as a form of intimidation. Chen goes for a big kick... and Fujita, being the ruthless Combat Pragmatist that he is, dodges the blow instead of trying to tank it and uses that as an opportunity to toss Chen around for awhile.
  • One-Hit Kill: The very first scene. Zhen gets attacked by a big-talking Japanese martial arts student. He goes down like a limp noodle with a single blow.
  • Razor-Sharp Hand: Chen is discussing philosophy with Funakoshi. Chen says it's about power, and punches a rock. Funakoshi effortlessly swings his hand through the air, cutting a leaf in half and says it's not just about power, but focusing that power.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: The Japanese ambassador disapproves of the actions of the Japanese Army and General Fujita. After Fujita is killed, the ambassador uses his newfound authority to prevent more bloodshed.
  • The Resenter: Ting-An becomes jealous of Chen after the latter defeats Akutegawa, gaining popularity among Jingwu's students and Shanghai's populace. This culminates in Ting-An challenging Chen for the title of headmaster.
  • Rival Dojos: The local kung fu school are rivals of the karate dojo of the occupying Japanese. The Chinese are the heroes and the Japanese are the villains, though the most powerful Japanese master is unaffiliated with the local dojo and stands neutral in the feud.
  • Serious Business: Fujita had Huo poisoned because he can't stand the notion of a Chinese dojo being more respected than a Japanese one. When Chen Zhen proves that the fight was rigged, he then frames Chen Zhen for murder.
  • Shout-Out: The final duel involves Fujita using a Katana while Chen uses his belt as a makeshift whip, this echoes the Katana vs Nunchaku fight from the original Fist of Fury.
  • Storming the Castle: Chen Zhen's one-man assault on Akutegawa's dojo before facing the man himself. Later Akutegawa's students invade Jingwu in vengeance for their master's death.
  • Take a Third Option: After Chen's trial, Jingwu is split on what to do with Mitsuko and he is told to either leave her or leave the school. Ting-An forces him into a third option by fighting him for the title of headmaster. Chen defeats him but refuses to accept the title or abandon Mitsuko, so all that's left for him is to leave Jingwu.
  • Tampering with Food and Drink: Suggested as the way Huo was poisoned, but Chen Zhen rejects it — everyone at Jingwu ate from a common pot, so if the food was poisoned, why had only one man fallen ill? The poison was in Huo's medicine.
  • Took a Level in Kindness: After Ting-An recovers from his Heroic BSoD, he allows both Chen and Mitsuko to stay at Jingwu and teaches him his family's secret Mizongyi style to pass on should anything happen to him.
  • The Unfettered: Fujita lectures that true bushido is to ignore morals in service to the emperor, even if it means being viewed by history as a villain.
  • The X of Y: Fist of Legend, naturally.