Isn't it amazing how many true stories sound like clichés? Here, for instance, is the real-life tale of Huo Juan Jia (Jet Li), the kung fu master who cannot be beaten. At the height of his fame, Huo’s hubris is his downfall: a drunken killing brings terrible revenge, and he must abandon his celebrity lifestyle to seek inner peace with a commune of rice-growing peasants. There, he finds love with an adorable blind girl, and yadda yadda yadda.
Fearless is a bland, crassly directed martial arts epic that strives for the serenity of Yimou Zhang but looks more like a tatty historical theme park: Ye Goldene Age of Kunge Fu. It does, however, have two things going for it: outstanding punch-ups and Jet Li. For the former we must thank, as usual, the peerless Woo-ping Yuen. An authentic genius in his punchy, crunchy field, Woo-ping's action sequences consistently outshine the films that surround them, as is very much the case here. As for Li, he is a rarity among the current crop of bodypoppin’ chop socky stars, because he can act. Li is a delightfully warm presence throughout, moving from youthful arrogance to disillusionment to monastic serenity with hardly a bum note, despite a script that (judging from the subtitles) clangs like a shipyard in a hurricane.
"CLANGS LIKE A SHIPYARD IN A HURRICANE"
Unusually, this is a martial arts movie about pacifism, although the non-violent message of non-violence sits uncomfortably with director Ronnie Yu’s cheerful sadism. With its thrilling dust-ups and saggy middle section, Fearless is best suited to DVD, where you can skip through the guff about personal growth and the correct way to plant rice.
Fearless is in UK cinemas on 23rd June 2006.