Sick Men of Asia

September 23rd, 2006  |  Published in etc  |  1 Comment

Went to see “Jet Li’s Fearless,” which is supposedly his “final martial arts epic.”

You kind of have to live with Chinese nationalism in martial arts films made on the mainland. I was sorry “Fearless” was so heavily influenced by it, but also amused that the home audience is assumed to be so attuned to the motifs involved that there was very little screen-time lost to explaining why the American dude in a top hat was so intent on seeing Chinese pride ground under his heel, or why the Japanese guy in Samurai garb is preferable to the Japanese guy in a bowler with a pocket watch.

The ads make the movie appear to be a gigantic live-action version of Tekken, centering on a tournament in which Jet Li will fight against a collection of martial artists (and an early 1900s version of the professional wrestler). But you get 3/4 of that action out of the way in the first five minutes of the movie. Most of the rest is flashback up to the tournament and its climactic battle.

Save it for video for the fight scenes, I guess, and you can probably ignore the subtitles but still get the gist. Jet Li should have decided to go out on “Hero,” which was also commie propaganda but had the benefit of telling a better story.


  1. Historian says:

    November 30th, 2006 at 5:43 am (#)

    I understand your viewpoint somewhat. i don’t particularily see what’s wrong with Chinese nationalism, seeing as it is almost a characteristic trait of China since before the Qing dynasty. Anti-Qing rebellions eventually evolved into anti-imperialist movements like the Boxer Rebellion, and these movements were later on in history highlighted as patriotic, nationalist rebellions. It’s been there for several hundred years. I personally liked it, and really didn’t see it any differently from Once Upon a Time in China, which was a lot less dramatic but pretty patriotic as well.

    In the 1920s, the West laughed at newly emerging Chinese nationalism, trying to humiliate the Chinese. They published newspapers depricating it.

    I feel less that Fearless was about “commie propaganda” than about Chinese pride after years of humiliation–the unequal treaties after the Opium Wars, Sino-Japanese war; the “Competition for concessions”. The movie was not about how the government was great. The movie was about one man who faced China’s shame and stood up for her when the government was too sick and too sycophantic to try. And that is why I do not understand your viewpoint.

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