Donnie Yen is a highly accomplished Hong Kong action star. He’s made many acclaimed action films such as Ip Man and Hero and is among the ranks of Jackie Chan and Jet Li and yet I’d never seen one of his films. I’ve made it my mission to see a handful of them. I had already seen most of Ip Man so I decided to start with Flash Point and then go on to Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen.
Flash Point (2007)
Not to be confused with the sub par TV show of the same name. Flash Point is not strictly a martial arts movie. It also has it’s fair share of gunplay. At times it seems like a John Woo movie, which is a good thing. I got a real Hard Boiled kind of vibe off of Flash Point. There are a number of small similarities between the two films. I wondered if it was an inspiration.
Flash Point, much like Legend of the Fist, opens with an action scene but it is very short. It’s only about a minute and a half long, but it sets the tone and style of the movie. It is one continuous dolly shot which really looks great.
The next big chunk of the movie sets up the story which is actually rather cliche. There’s an undercover cop, a girlfriend in danger, a loose cannon cop who takes the law into his own hands and a bad guy above the law. It’s all been done before, the only slight difference is that instead of following the undercover cop whose girlfriend gets kidnapped, we follow his partner played by Donnie Yen. Not many movies do that, most films have you follow the center of the conflict but I think it was a smart move.
Flash Point has an interesting set of characters. Their development is done well and each has a unique personality, which is something that a lot of action films don’t bother with. At times we follow both the good guys and the bad guys. Wison Yip the director does a very good job. He brings a definite style to the film where it doesn’t take itself too seriously. There is a nice lighthearted tone that welcomes comedy into the action.
Most of the acting is good, with one really terrible performance that sticks out. There is a woman who plays a cop in an action scene. She hasn’t been in the movie up to that point, so this is our introduction to her. People start shooting and she’s undercover with another cop. She’s supposed to be either terrified or caught up in the action, but instead she’s just smiling away. She is obliviously happy while being shot at but the movie tries to inject tension when she dies. She gets killed and it’s supposed to be this dramatic angry moment when really it was her own fault she died. The audience doesn’t even know her before it happens. I don’t even think she has a name, just one poorly acted scene. You simply can’t introduce someone in the same scene you kill them off and expect there to be a big dramatic payoff.
The relationship between the undercover cop and his girlfriend is a big part of the movie. The entire final fight scene happens because of them. The problem is that I don’t really buy their relationship. Maybe it’s the writing or maybe they just have poor onscreen chemistry, but I didn’t feel the passion that was supposed to have fueled this suicidal charge at the end.
Donnie Yen is also the action director and he brings incredible sequences to Flash Point. There are some great chase and fight scenes. Two in particular stand out: The first is a parkour chase through the city that leads to a one on one fight in a market. Both aspects of this scene are awesome and well performed by both men. The final sequence just makes the movie.
The big finale is a two part action sequence. The first part is a John Woo-esque shootout between Donnie Yen and all the bad guys. It is very well done and this is where I started to notice the cool camera angles and pans. The camerawork may not be important to the casual film viewer, but it does play an important role in the effectiveness of any movie. This shootout showcases some awesome sniper rifle work which again makes me wish that there were more sniper gunfights in movies. We do have some films about snipers like Shooter or Sniper, but there is always room for more. One of the main villains dies one of the coolest on screen deaths from any film during this shootout. Start spoiler * He is blasted into the air and skeet shot several times with the sniper rifle as he falls down onto the roof of a car. Awesome. * End spoiler.
After the gunfight it’s down to Donnie Yen and one of the main villains. No guns just fighting. This fight is incredible, it’s long, varied and brutal. The actors take some impressive falls and daring full contact hits. This is the highlight of the whole film. I would say that most of the film is not quite there but this final battle makes it worth watching.
In closing I would say that neither of these movies are bad, but they’re not that great either. They both have great moments, but fail to deliver a consistently great experience throughout. Both tend to drag, but the action is showstopping. I enjoyed Flash Point more than Legend of the Fist. If you’re going to choose, then I would say, go with that one.
Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen (2010)
This title seems very cliche and uninspired. “Legend of the Fist” is rather bland and it doesn’t do a whole lot to separate itself from other action movies. However the 2nd half of the title is a bit more interesting: “The Return of Chen Zhen”. Chen Zhen is a character that has been in many martial arts movies and was played by a number of accomplished martial artists including Jet Li. He was first played by Bruce Lee in The Chinese Connection. So Chen Zhen is definitely a character worth noting. The “Legend of the Fist” bit is making more sense now isn’t it? The character has always been associated with a fist, its his trademark.
Donnie Yen has many connections to Bruce Lee. He cites Bruce Lee as an influence, he’s played Bruce Lee’s teacher in Ip Man, and has reprised multiple roles previously played by Lee. He has played Chen Zhen in Legend of the Fist as well as in the TV series Fist of Fury. Bruce Lee made a movie known in America as Fists of Fury, but the original title was The Big Boss. Donnie Yen made a movie called Snow Wolf, but the original title was The New Big Boss. All these connections make Donnie Yen the obvious choice for the role of Chen Zhen. He even throws some iconic Bruce Lee high pitched yelling into his fighting. It’s definitely toned down, but it’s still there.
Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen opens with one of the coolest action sequences I’ve seen in a long time. It has Donnie Yen’s character killing Germans in WWI. They have lots of men and lots of guns but he is just one man with three knives. He sprints and parkours through gun fire and slashes them to pieces in an action sequence that will have you shouting out loud.
Now after that incredible opening action sequence, the rest of the film is a bit of a disappointment. It’s definitely not bad, just slower paced. There are other action scenes and while they do not surpass the opening, they are all still awesome. The only problem is that the connecting bits between action sequences are not incredibly interesting. The film has a decent plot, but it feels the need to reiterate everything that is going on in between each scene.
It’s a shame that the movie peaks with it’s opening scene, as the rest of the movie seems even more slow and monotonous in comparison. The other fights are all superbly choreographed and executed and the action is fast and brutal. This is the kind of movie where you wish they swapped a couple of expositional scenes with a few more action sequences.
The final fight of the movie is a little mixed. It begins as Donnie Yen fights a large group of Japanese soldiers and then boils down to a one on one fight between him and the villain. The group fight is awesome and Donnie showcases incredible speed and kicks an average of 3.5 people in the face each time he leaves the ground, which is quite often. Unfortunately the one on one fight is a little disappointing. The fight isn’t bad by any means, but it lacks a certain flair.
Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen has good action, but terrible pacing. I would say that this is the kind of film where you should just skip to the exciting parts. If you watch Legend of the Fist you’ll probably have a good time, but you may be a little bored by certain sections.
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