Fist of Legend (Two-Disc Ultimate Edition) – DVD Review

Watching Fist of Legend is both a pleasurable and depressing. On the one hand, seeing Jet Li at his peak, in a martial arts film that seems to understand his talents, is one of the many delights of cinema. On the other hand, watching him go through the American studios to make a number of awful films over the years has been painful for Li fans, to say the least. So with the influence of Hong Kong cinema on American films, Dragon Dynasty has been a godsend for martial arts films fans. Releasing many of the great martial arts and action films of Hong Kong in two disc special editions, it’s a way for old fans to revamp their DVD collections with new editions and for new fans to see a whole new world of cinema.

A good place to start is with Fist of Legend, which is to Jet Li that Police Story 2 is to Jackie Chan or Hard Boiled is to Chow-Yun Fat. Li is Chen Zhen, a Kung Fu expert who has come back to avenge the death of his master at the hands of some Japanese Judo experts. Not all is what it appears to be, however, as the rival master winds up dead and Zhen is the prime suspect. Throw in a ton of martial arts fights and some vintage WWII Chinese architecture and you have the makings of one of the 1990s best martial arts films.

What’s interesting about the film is how varied the martial arts work is. Li does more than just use his traditional style, and incorporates elements from many other recognizable arts throughout the film. It’s fascinating to watch as Li shows off his acumen in the subject; it’s hard to believe that 14 years later he’s playing second fiddle to rappers turned actors like DMX.

For those who want to see Jet Li the way martial arts fans have seen him for years, Fist of Legend is a must see.

Fist of Legend is presented in a widescreen format with a Dolby Digital presentation. Dragon Dynasty seems to be hit and miss when it comes to a/v presentations for films more than a decade old, but for Fist of Legend it’s surprisingly good. The video is gorgeous, very crisp and clearer than previous DVD releases, but the audio hasn’t progressed nearly as much. It’s still a step up, production wise, but it’s not as nearly pronounced as the video is.

There’s a Commentary by Hong Kong Cinema Expert Bey Logan on the first disc. The second disc, however, is where the meat of the extras resides.

The film’s original Trailer is included, as well as the one for its U.S release.

Deleted Scenes are included, but are from the original release. They look and sound awful, no where near the quality of the film stock from the first disc, and don’t add much back into the film either.

The Man Behind the Scenes is an interview with Gordon Chan, the film’s director. He has a lot of insight into the film, talking about how he set up the film’s action sequences and how the film originally came out as an inside joke between him and someone else on remaking Fist of Fury, originally a Bruce Lee vehicle. It’s a 30-minute-plus conversation with the man, where he discusses everything involved in the film with a lot of candor. He does tell a great story about how some American fans figured out who he was and were enthralled with him, bowing in front of him because they loved it so much. He doesn’t view the film as an epic masterpiece, but as another of the kung fu films he’s done.

Brother in Arms is an interview with Kung Fu impresario Chin Siu-Ho, one of the film’s stars. He discusses the difference between the practice of martial arts and their role in the cinema, how to fight for the aesthetics as opposed to winning a fight. Siu-Ho also goes into depth into discussing some of his roles, what it’s like to make a martial arts film, et al. It makes for a great look at the industry from an actor at the heart of it. Jet Li’s ability to adapt his own style to the movements of the film are discussed as well, as Siu-Ho discusses in quite a bit of detail about what they did and how often they trained.

The Way of the Warrior is an interview with Kurata Yasuki, a Japanese action legend and yet another star in the film. It’s a similar interview as Siu-Ho’s, except with a different perspective he provides having been there when Jackie Chan and Jet Li, as well as Sammo Hung and Chow-Yun Fat, all started their careers and has an interesting perspective being a Japanese man in Hong Kong. He points out a lot of differences in making films between Japanese film makers and their Hong Kong counterparts, which makes for a good chunk of the 30-minute running time; it’s fascinating to hear a veteran hand discuss things like this.

The School of Hard Knocks is a look at the Kurata Action School, a look at the future stuntmen and stuntwomen of Hong Kong working on various stunts and sequences. Kurata Yasuki is shown giving a lesson on how to properly draw and sheathe a sword, discussing in some depth why you hold it a certain way and put it back a certain way. It’s more of a summary of a session than any actual information, getting boring after a while. It would’ve been interesting to hear about the school’s history, et al.

A look at Fist of Legend from director Brett Ratner and film critic Elvis Mitchell talking about the film and its later influences on film. Neither really adds much into the conversation in the way the other interviews do, running around 10 minutes and sounding like fanboys more often than not.

With the exception of 10 cringe-worthy minutes of an extra from Brett Ratner, Fist of Legend finally has a DVD release worthy of its status as one of the great martial arts films of the last 20 years. Dragon Dynasty continues with perhaps the best niche line of DVDs currently on the market.

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Dragon Dynasty presents Fist of Legend . Directed by Gordon Chan. Starring Jet Li, Kurata Yasuki, Chin Siu-Ho. Written by Gordon Chan, Lan Kay Toa and Kwong Kim Yip. Running time: 103 minutes. Not Rated. Released on DVD: 9.9.2008. Available at Amazon.com.

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