In 1925, the Japanese have occupied the city of Shanghai. They have the city divided across several settlements. They are preparing a large scale invasion of China. Not only are the Chinese being bullied by the Japanese, they also are harassed by Westerners who have come with their influence and getting rich off their businesses.
Chen Zhen (Donnie Yen), a former soldier during WWI has reappeared as Qi Tianyuan, a business man in the city of Shanghai. He frequently hangs out at the Casablanca nightclub where a beautiful singer, Fang Qing (Shu Qi) aka Kiki works.
Qi Tianyuan’s best friend, Liu Yu-Tian (Anthony Wong), is the owner of the nightclub. Together they are planning to lead a resistance against their Japanese oppressors. The ambitious Japanese military is discovered to be plotting an assassination of General Zeng (Shawn Yue), the son of a north China army commander by the resistance fighters.
They see an opportunity in that to cause internal strife amongst the Chinese people. The Japanese will then plant the blame on a rival military leader, General Zhuo (Yue Ma). When the Japanese kill off Zeng it will cause a civil war between the two rival military leaders to ensue and make their conquest of China easier.
The plot is thwarted by Qi Tianyuan when he disguises himself as a masked superhero wearing a black costume. Colonel Takeshi Chikaraishi (Ryu Kohata) is the sadistic leader of the Japanese military faction in Shanghai. He begins killing people of the anti-Japanese resistance on a list sent by his superiors in Tokyo.
Colonel Takeshi also starts putting two and two together to find out that Qi Tianyuan is actually Chen Zhen the masked hero. Elsewhere, Qi Tianyuan/Chen Zhen is falling in love with Fang Qing. He soon finds out that Fang goes under the name of Yumi Yamaguchi, a spy for the Japanese military.
Colonel Takeshi Chikaraishi, in an act of testing Fang/Yamaguchi’s loyalty, orders her to kill General Zeng’s girlfriend Vivian (Siyan Huo), a friend of hers. The angry General Zeng allies himself with the Japanese and attacks General Zhuo, who was blamed for the murder of his girlfriend. Chen Zhen is shortly taken captive after being cornered by the Japanese.
Chikaraishi Takeshi brutally tortures Chen. Soon after his friends attack and destroy the building he is being held in. The Japanese decide to release the severely injured Chen. Eventually Chen awakens from his coma to confront the sadistic Takeshi and 100 of his men in a brutal battle to the death in his Japanese Karate Dojo. The same Dojo Chen Zhen killed the Colonel’s father 10 years ago.
Legend of the Fist The Return of Chen Zhen: Review
Legend of the Fist The Return of Chen Zhen is an expensive Hong Kong action/martial arts production. The plot of this movie has been done before in various Hong Kong films. Several Hong Kong films have similar aesthetics such as the Jet Li movies: Once Upon a Time in China (1991), Fist of Legend (1994), Fearless (2006), and the Donnie Yen film: IP Man (2008).
The films listed are similar in terms of the themes of oppression on display. The Superhero costume worn by Donnie Yen in Legend of the Fist The Return of Chen Zhen is very similar to the design of Kato’s Green Hornet costume. Jet Li wore a variation of the costume for his 1996 Black Mask film. The fantasy style action scenes for Legend of the Fist The Return of Chen Zhen are also a lot like the Black Mask film. The actors in Legend of the Fist The Return of Chen Zhen do a good job. The beautiful and sexy Shu Qi shines in this movie.
She was great with her energetic performance as the party hard Casablanca nightclub singer, Fang Qing aka Kiki. She is often drunk throughout the film. Fang Qing shows that she has a heart in her final scenes as the spy, Mrs. Yamaguchi, which unfortunately leads to her sad demise.
I have seen several of Donnie Yen’s movies from his early days to recent. He just keeps getting better. His martial arts skills are more impressive now. His charismatic presence has even more star power now. Of his most recent work, I enjoyed Flash Point the best. SPL was also very good.
Donnie Yen is in top shape, as his body is even more chiseled than earlier in his career. In terms of realism, Legend of the Fist The Return of Chen Zhen has a lot of fantasy elements and inconsistencies. When Donnie Yen is dressed up like a superhero he has superhuman strength, speed, and agility.
Donnie Yen’s fighting skills become enhanced by the wire-work and special effects applied to them. Not that he needs such enhancements since Mr. Yen is pretty fast and badass on his own. He often does an excellent job when he choreographs the fights in his movies.
Without any explanation, when he is not in costume, such as in the ending fight he is normal and can be pushed to his limits. Or when he is cornered by Colonel Takeshi and his thugs and beaten severely. That just didn’t make sense to me in the Legend of the Fist The Return of Chen Zhen movie.
The fight scenes for the movie were choreographed by Donnie Yen. He incorporated many mixed martial arts (MMA) elements in the film, along with the utilization of Wing Chun. The movie is somewhat of a tribute to Bruce Lee. Donnie Yen added Mr. Lee’s signature scream in the Dojo battle at the end. He also makes use of Nunchaku just like Bruce Lee did in Fists of Fury.
I couldn’t help but laugh when I first saw Donnie’s attempts at doing the “Wachoooo”, while kicking ass in the Dojo fight. It was a bit cheesy and awkward looking, but it’s all in good fun. Highly gifted actor, Anthony Wong always does a job with his performances as a good guy or villain. He often plays the part of a psychotic bad guy such as Wong Chi Hang (The Untold Story 1993), Johnny Wong (Hard Boiled 1993), the perverse sadistic King Kau (Black Mask 1996), and as Sergeant Tung in Beast Cops (1998).
Japanese actor, Ryu Kohata does a great job as well. The sadistic main villain, Colonel Takeshi Chikaraishi, is a real nasty guy that you will not like. Ryu Kohata plays the creep perfectly. The visuals and cinematography for the Legend of the Fist The Return of Chen Zhen are stunning. 1920’s era’s Shanghai, China looks flashy and beautiful.
The best directed action sequence in the movie was the opening WWI battle scene that will get your adrenaline pumping. The spectacular battle sequence explodes on you with the unstoppable and impressive Donnie Yen as a one man soldier. He single-handily makes quick work of the German forces with his stylish fighting skills.
It’s unfortunate that there were few action scenes that stood out following the opening one in Legend of the Fist The Return of Chen Zhen. Most of the film was comprised of somewhat confusing drama scenes. The character development is often told through flashback scenes. I found the lack of explanation of the Chen Zhen character escaping death from the Japanese 10 years ago, after discovering who was responsible for his teacher’s murder as poorly scripted.
The music and instrumental score for Legend of the Fist The Return of Chen Zhen is done well. Taiwanese born actress, Shu Qi does her own singing for the songs she performs at the Casablanca nightclub. Shu Qi isn’t a natural singer, but she is cute in her performance of the catchy songs.
There is some graphic content in the film such as a lot of blood during violent scenes and a semi-nude Donnie Yen while he is being tortured. The film has some derogatory terms said during some heated scenes of arguments between the bullied Chinese, Japanese, and Europeans that reside in Shanghai.
The Chinese people are called well known racial epitaphs by both the Japanese and the Westerners in a couple of scenes. The Europeans get called names as well. Some things are said about females by the Japanese. A Japanese soldier refers to them as only being sex objects.
The nationalistic themes in Legend of the Fist The Return of Chen Zhen has been overdone a lot in Hong Kong cinema.
The Japanese on display are made out to look really bad in this one as well. The intense final fight was well choreographed by Donnie Yen and isn’t short. He shows off his best Bruce Lee impression and how awesome he is in the finale. He gets knocked down and comes right back like the Superhero that he is.
Overall the Legend of the Fist The Return of Chen Zhen is an entertaining film. It could have been better if there were more impressive action scenes displaying Donnie Yen’s fighting talents. The Blu-ray I have of this movie is a special edition version that comes with a special features disc.
The bonus disc has six behind the scenes documentaries. Some interviews with cast members Shu Qi, Anthony Wong, Ryu Kohata, and Donnie Yen.
Each of the actors/actresses discuss their characters and experiences working on the film. Donnie Yen discusses the fight choreography for the Legend of the Fist The Return of Chen Zhen. An interview with director Andrew Lau who discusses a lot about the film is also added.