Jet Li’s Fearless (review)

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To see Jet Li battle a boxer, a swordsman, a wrestler, and other non-martial-arts warriors is kinda like that age-old theoretical geeks’ game come to life: Who would win if Superman fought Mighty Mouse? If a Dalek fought a Cylon? If Darth Vader fought Ming the Merciless? The combat itself isn’t quite the point, cool as it might hypothetically be — thinking about whose mojo, good or evil, is the stronger is the point. Jet Li’s mojo is very strong indeed, and he puts it to noble use in Jet Li’s Fearless, which is good, because he’s done with martial arts films. He’s tired, he says, of them being all about the combat — and even when they’re not about the combat, he worries, that’s what audience tend to take from them anyway. The soul of Chinese martial arts, that “wushu” means “stop fighting,” is, he believes, getting lost in the flying fists. And so he goes out elegantly with this, his last martial-arts flick, an historical action drama about a real-life Chinese legend, a wushu master who restored the nation’s pride a century ago through his emphasis on the philosophy of martial arts as much as his teachings of the physical aspects. This is one of those cinematic ironies — a violent film about the uselessness and soul-sucking cyclicity of violence — and it is a beautiful one, as energetically corporeal as it is touchingly spiritual. Fingers crossed that Li’s new onscreen emotional vulnerability — so surprising in his last film, Unleashed — will mean he’ll continue to kick ass in the movies, if only metaphorically. The unrated edition of the DVD includes both an uncut, unrated version of the film as well as the original theatrical version, a deleted scene, and a making-of documentary. [buy at Amazon]

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