“Fearless” (2006) is Ronny Yu’s latest martial arts movie featuring Jet Li as the Chinese Martial Arts Master Huo Yuanjia (1869-1910). The biggest difference to all the recent martial arts movies is that the fights are far more realistic and as such much more intense, esp. since they all happen inside some sort of arena.
Jet Li portraits Huo Yuanjia and his journey to find his inner self, challenging foreign fighters to defend the nation’s honor and eventually becoming the founder of the Jin Wu Sports Federation.
The movie slows down considerably during the hero’s catharsis, his flight from the life and people he knew. He is rescued by a blind woman nursing him back to strength in some remote hamlet after he dueled to the death with another local martial arts master, killing him. Clearing his mind with hard work as a farmer he stayed at the village, preparing for his return.
When Huo left his town he had lost everything, daughter, parents, friends and he had killed, something his father was opposed to and rather accepted defeat than dealing the mortal blow. During his time away from his life Huo realized this and returns renewed, strengthened, he found his inner self and set out to teach others these values.
The movie focuses on both the arena fights and Huo’s inner journey, the realization what martial art is and what it is not. The final fight against a Japanese fighter is the high point of the movie and beautifully choreographed.
The fights are all a feast for the eyes and while the story has its roots in history it drives the pace from fight to fight, culminating in one last final challenge. Defeated by deceit and poisoned Huo still remains victorious in the end.
As stated previously, this movie does not play as much with colors as “Hero” or “Crouching Tiger” or “HoFD”, it does not have any fantasy flying martial arts, instead the story is more grounded and the fights far more realistic which makes for a very intense experience. This is truly a Jet Li movie.