Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen Blu-ray Review

I am a big fan of martial arts expert Donnie Yen.  Along with his years of work in film and television (in mainly Asian markets), I have really enjoyed his recent role in IP Man.  Now he has the chance to revisit a character made popular by Bruce Lee, re-imagined by Jet Li, and then Yen in a 90s TV series.  Chen Zhen is a fictional Chinese cult hero, who has spanned various time periods, using martial arts skills to fight for the innocent.  This new update has Chen Zhen taking the role of a masked vigilante in 1920s Shanghai.  The film is fun and stylish enough, although it lacks a good enough pace to keep things more exciting.  Regardless, seeing well made action scenes with Yen is always cool enough, and the stylish nature of the film manages to make it worthwhile.  Seeing the flick on this snazzy looking Blu-ray was certainly quite nice as well.

The film takes place in Shanghai, China, during the 1920s.  Following a brief prologue involving Donnie Yen’s character, Chen Zhen, fighting with a group of Chinese men against the Germans in World War I, the film soon delves into the story of an underground resistance movement working to stop the Japanese from invading China.  Now living under a false identity, Chen has become associated with the owner of a popular nightclub frequented by foreign dignitaries.  Chen learns of a plot by the Japanese to assassinate a General and to then blame it on a rival warlord, which would spark a civil war.  To prevent this, Chen takes it upon himself to stop the assassination plot, using his martial arts skills.  He does so while disguised as a masked superhero.

While Chen’s act were of course for the good of the Chinese people, his actions set off a chain of events that lead to many Chinese figures being put on a death list.  Colonel Chikaraishi Takeshi, the leader of the Japanese secret agency in Shanghai is in charge of carrying the orders on this death list and does all he can to complete it.  The film then becomes a challenge between Chen Zhen and Chikaraishi (who is soon aware of who Chen really is) to see who can succeed in either saving or murdering those who have been listed.  There is also a subplot involving a nightclub singer, Kiki (Shu Qi), who is actually a Japanese spy, but still becomes a love interest for Chen Zhen.  Regardless, what the film does its best to deliver is enough intrigue and martial arts action sequences to make Chen’s journey quite exciting.

I enjoyed this movie, but I wish I could have enjoyed it even more.  When you have a central premise revolving around Donny Yen becoming a masked vigilante in 1920s Shanghai, you would hope that everything would progress quickly, while having a lot of fun with its ideas.  Unfortunately, this film seems to be taking itself far more serious than I really would have liked.  It does have fun with its fight scenes and presentation of the various sets and locations, but it becomes bogged down in its politics and extraneous subplots as well.

It doesn’t help that certain filmmaking and stylistic touches have been embraced to have the film fall all over the place in terms of its tone.  The action sequences are way over the top in some places, but then decidedly gritty in other spots.  The story has a lot of melodrama involving the different characters, but then decides to have more fun with the spy vs. spy elements surrounding China vs. Japan.  As a result, the film feels inconsistent, when it could have leaned one way or the other to provide a more enthralling experience.

With all of that said, I did enjoy this film overall.  All of this is due to the presence of Donny Yen in the lead as Chen Zhen.  His screen presence is enough for me to mostly be on board with anything he decides to do.  I am not sure whether it is due to his fighting abilities or his basic demeanor, but I just really enjoy seeing him embark on various action adventures, whether it be for the sake of honor, as in IP Man, or because he has a score to settle.  It helps that this is Donny Yen as a superhero, which easily makes things better, as far as I am concerned.

While not as quick-paced and action-packed as I would have hoped for, Legend of the Fist does provide a mostly satisfying “martial arts meets superhero” experience.  Donny Yen continues to be an action star not nearly as well appreciated in the U.S. as he should be, but continues to do his thing anyway, with the rest of the world appreciating what he has to offer.  The film also does have a great amount of art direction, which lends itself to creating a visually polished experience, which is admirable.  A cool flick that could hopefully reignite a former hero’s presence.

Fully embracing the great look of this film and the vibrant colors presented throughout, this Blu-ray disc is wonderful in terms of its picture transfer quality.  The wonderful AVC encoded 1080p transfer manages to do almost everything to bring out the wonderful details in this film.  The scenes that take place in the wonderfully colorful Shanghai nightlife are incredibly well presented, as are the more muted, gray-toned sequences, such as the opening battle scenes.  Given that Chen Zhen is a character who dresses in black when in costume, it is appropriate to say that the black levels are also well presented as well.  I loved being able to appreciate everything about the production and costume design, thanks to the wonderful picture quality on this disc.  And it doesn’t hurt that an action film is always done great justice when there is a fine Blu-ray presentation.

Once again, the Blu-ray serves Legend of the Fist quite well when it comes to delivering a fine audio experience.  Featuring two lossless audio tracks, this flick sounds great, as it delivers wonderful action sequences defined very much by the sounds of its kicks and punches, along with explosions, bullets, background ambience, and score.  The disc boasts a Mandarin 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track, along with an English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track.  The whole thing delivers well, regardless of which track you choose.  Everything has been very well mixed, as a balance issue never seemed to be a problem with how the sound would reach different parts of my sound system.

There is not a whole lot in the way of extra features, but Legend of the Fist does have a few featurettes and interviews to get through.  Unfortunately, all of the features, aside from the trailers, are presented in SD quality.  Features include:

Behind the Scenes War Zone.  A look at the WWI battle sequence that opens the film.

Behind the Scenes Casablanca. A look at the designing of the nightclub featured prominently during the film.

Theatrical and International Trailers

DVD Copy of the film.  The remaining special features are housed here.

Interviews.  All of the major actors and director Andrew Lau get a chance to speak about the making of the film and a bit about the history of the character Chen Zhen.

Behind the Scenes.  A selection of brief segments that go over various production points in the film, which includes rehearsal footage.

Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen is a fun martial arts film overall.  I wish it could have been a more consistent film on the whole, with a better balance between the action, drama, and overall tone of the film; however, Donny Yen is always cool to watch.  Fortunately, the film is quite stylish and the Blu-ray does a great job in presenting the level of detail that went into its making.  Martial Arts fans may not find a classic in the making here, but they will see a fun little flick that brings back an old hero from the past.

About the author

Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Video Game Player, Comic Book Reader, Disc Gofer, and a Lefty. There are too many films, TV shows, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com, and check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.