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Often times “Director’s Cuts” can be a mixed bag. Occasionally, you get movies that end up dramatically improved – most notably Ridley Scott efforts such as Blade Runner or Kingdom of Heaven come to mind – but more likely most of these efforts just end up being a marketing ploy, adding footage to a theatrical cut of a movie that seemed to have been excised from the film for a reason in the first place. Some may wonder whether the new release of Jet Li’s Fearless: The Director’s Cut, could be such a ploy, considering Li has a new movie out in theaters, but in actuality, you get a movie that actually fits closer to the former category rather than the latter, as this new version adds material to the movie that strengthens its themes and amps up the emotional power of the original film. While the new footage doesn’t completely change the picture like the best “Director’s Cuts” do, it is a definite improvement, worthy of the stature of Jet Li’s last major Martial Arts genre appearance.
Now, if there is any footage that does seem “tacked on” to the picture, it is the new opening sequence featuring Michelle Yeoh as a Chinese representative trying to sell the IOC and the International press on the idea of adding Wushu (Chinese Martial Arts) as an Olympic Sport. The rest of the picture sells the movie’s themes just fine, and we never come back to these characters at all, so the sequence seems to stifle the movie at the opening gate, never really taking off. Once we get into the meat of this story, this sequence just seems to get more and more needless.
Much more effective is the restructuring of the film’s introduction to Jet Li’s Huo Yuanjia. In the US theatrical cut of the movie, we’re shown the character in the midst of a type of tournament before cutting away to his back story. Instead, in this version we’re given a more emotional presentation, as he’s lost at sea, which seems a little more appropriate for what the movie is trying to achieve. Also, by not breaking up the fights, the climactic action at the end of the film is much longer and more exciting than it was in previous versions.
For those that had not seen the previously released versions of the movie, the story centers around Huo Yuanjia, a young man who watches his father lose a wushu match in disgrace, and decides to make it his life’s mission to become a grand champion, forsaking all of his loved ones in the process. Destroying all in his path, Huo becomes obsessed with his pursuit, until the price becomes too great and his entire world comes apart around him. Left with nothing, the man wanders into the wilderness, finally coming to a village where he learns the meaning of serenity, and to give up his selfish pursuits in favor of larger goals.
For those worried that this plot does not allow for the usual amount of Jet Li face-kicking, let your worries rest. Li, working with choreographer Yuen Woo-Ping, do their usual incredible work together, exciting us with brutal throw-downs in the movie’s first third and telling much of this character’s story through the evolution of his combat. Action fans should not be disappointed, as the early fights escalate further and further until we get a fantastic battle between Huo Yuanjia and his main rival, erupting into a brutal teahouse brawl. The picture’s climactic fights favor finesse over brutality, showing off Li’s grace in a way that rival even the most hypnotic action of Zhang Yimou‘s Hero.
Where Fearless tries to really set itself apart from the rest of Li‘s films is in its philosophy, represented by the film’s center section, as Yuanjia wanders into a remote village and really connects with his humanity for the first time. This is really where the best of the film’s new material is added as well. Other than focus on a lot of action, this entire portion of the film is trying to reach you on an emotional level, which to be honest has been a rarity amongst most of Li‘s work. While there is a fight scene added into this section, most of the added footage tries hard to simply engage you with the peace of this village and show you how a man could heal his inner most wounds there.
Li’s puts fourth one of his absolute best acting performances in this film, making it worth taking this longer journey through Fearless. Overall, this is a much better cut of the film, shaping this picture to the point where you really are emotionally invested and not just waiting for the next action sequence. Jet Li’s Fearless isn’t necessarily the actor’s best Action film (Fist of Legend) or his best Drama (Hero), but it may just stand as Li’s best attempt at putting both categories together in one film.
Fearless looks pretty terrific in all three versions found on this disc. The colors are bright and beautiful and the Dolby Digital soundtrack is nice and full, making good use of a Hong Kong fight soundtrack. You’ll hear every cracking bone and sword swing this disc has to offer.
In addition to The Director’s Cut you get a second DVD, which is really just the previous DVD release of Fearless, including the Theatrical and Unrated cuts of the film.
This DVD also includes the other features from the previous release, including:
A Fearless Journey (16:04) – This is a pretty decent Featurette, which covers a lot of the philosophies of wushu and also goes into detail about the production of this film.
If you haven’t own this film yet and have wanted to, then this release of Jet Li’s Fearless: The Director’s Cut is definitely the way to go. Even if you don’t like the new cut of the movie, both of the previous versions are available here. I do wish this DVD featured more new extras, but the newest cut of the film is worth having by itself, especially for fans of Jet Li.
Universal presents Jet Li’s Fearless: The Director’s Cut. Directed by Ronny Yu. Starring Jet Li, Shido Nakamura, and Betty Sun. Written by Chris Chow and Chi-long To. Running time: 141 minutes. Unrated. Released on DVD: July 8, 2008. Available at Amazon.com.