Andrew Lau‘s Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen opens with a battle scene where Chinese labourers are being ordered around by French troops. Our hero Chen Zhen (Donnie Yen), gives an ‘inspirational’ speech to his comrades, then he goes out to the battlefields and beats down the German snipers who shot said comrade or two, kung fu style. The last part sounds ridiculous, but there are many elements within the mise-en-scene. Yen makes it through sniper fire, the first of many complex, well-choreographed fight scenes where his enemies surround him.
The movie flashes forward to the main plot. Chen Zhen becomes Qi, a charismatic patron of a Shanghai dance hall There’s also a thrush named Kiki who can sing and entertain in both Chinese and Japanese. The dance hall, named Casablanca, a reference to that film. Chen Zhen takes on a third identity as a movie hero called ‘The Masked Warrior.’ Shanghai’s a mixed crowd, the main characters are hiding something and is suspicious of each other, there’s cliché free dialogue, boiling down into one showdown bigger than the one before, revealing more about the story of Chen Zhen and the country he represents. Lau is also responsible for the slightly grainy digital photography of the film perfectly showing, among many things, how worn down our hero can be.
I saw this movie last night in the festival’s opening night. There are two more showtimes, at noon today at Ryerson and at the morning of the 18th at the Varsity. My grade for the movie: 3/5.