Fist of Legend: Jet Li in the Remake of Bruce Lee’s Fist of Fury
Lo Wei’s 1972 action hit Fist of Fury, which starred the late Bruce Lee, had a politically biased motif and was inspired by the Sino-Japanese relations and the occupation of Shanghai in 1937. However, Gordon Chan’s 1994 Fist of Legend is a more diplomatic retelling of the same story.
The film is about Chen Zen (Jet Li), a Chinese engineering student in Kyoto University, Japan, who quits his studies and returns to his homeland after the death of his master, Huo Yanjia, in a match with a Japanese master Ryōichi Akutagawa (Jackson Liu).
After Chen arrives in Shanghai, he sets off to challenge the Japanese master and easily defeats him. This arouses his suspicions about the death of his master and triggers off a set of events that will either reveal the truth or get him killed.
Unlike the original film, this one begins with Chen Zen studying in Japan on the mechanics of an engine. Early on we are clearly given an impression of how he feels toward the Japanese and how his fellow students reciprocate this.
This is implied in his relationship with his classmates and more importantly with Yamada Mitsuko (Nakayama Shinobu); his Japanese girlfriend and future fiance.
There are also other discrepancies between the original like the ending. In the original, Chen is killed. However, in this version, there is a compromise and Chen’s death is faked while he is secretly whisked away.
The Russian champion that fights with Lee in the original is not there. Instead the fight is between Li and the Japanese General, Fujita (Billy Chau), or the use of nunchakus.
The most notable difference would be the tempers, in the original Lee’s Chen has a furious temper and fights without even considering the consequences whereas this version has a more controlled, matured Chen.
There are also some similarities between the films.
In both versions of the story the protagonist sacrifices something to ensure there is peace between the two countries. In the original, Chen (played by Bruce Lee) sacrifices his life. He is shot by a firing squad whereas the remake has Chen sacrificing his freedom and home.
This is arranged by the Japanese Ambassador (Toshimichi Takahashi) who believes in a more passive and peaceful Japan.
This film is a great action flick but above all it is a love story. We first witness this love as Mitsuko comes to Chen’s aid, leaving behind everything and even lying in court for him.
Then he reciprocates this by leaving the Jing Wu School – his home and family. And later he would sacrifice his nationality to save the country.
This is a breath of fresh air especially when most Hong Kong martial arts film set in that era usually pit the Japanese against the Chinese and uses nationalism as its main selling point. This film is different, the antagonists are portrayed as individuals and we get to see their complexities rather than a generalized and usually biased point of view.
If you love kung fu and love stories, this will probably whet your appetite. The story is told with such class that the film has a perfect balance between two genres, action and romance and if you are a Jet Li fan, this is must see!