Donnie Yen’s butt.
That, my friends; is the one element of Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen that I can honestly say I’ve never seen elsewhere.
That one goofy and slightly embarrassing little detail aside, Return of Chen Zhen is a bipolar mess of a film that can only be recommended to the most hardcore of Donnie Yen fans, I.E. me.
The basic plot is as follows:
How he managed to survive charging headlong into a hail of gunfire after the events of Fist of Fury, is never explained.
During the war, one of Chen Zhen’s friends is shot dead, prompting him to go apeshit and kill a bunch of Germans via the combined techniques of parkour and shank-fu.
Much violence and badassery ensues.
With that, Chen Zhen opts to assume his fallen friend’s identity as he sets off for Shanghai; declaring his homeland his new battlefield in fighting against Chinese oppression.
Why he decides to take out his aggression on the occupying Japanese (embodied by the decidedly flacid antagonist played by Kohata Ryu) instead of the German forces that were directly responsible for his friend’s death, is not explained.
Once in China, Chen Zhen uses his resources to build himself a network of newsies, students, war vets, and cops to serve as his Shadow-esque eyes and ears.
He also invests in a pencil-thin fake mustache, seemingly just because pencil-thin mustaches are pimp.
How Chen Zhen acquires said resources to put together said network, and purchase said mustache, is never explained.
Now firmly established as a wealthy entrepreneur of sorts in Shanghai, Chen Zhen links up with fellow wealthy socialite and nightclub owner, Li Yutian (Anthony Wong) in order to spread his influence… At least that’s what I got out of it anyway.
Li’s nightclub also happens to play host to a foxy singer named Kiki (Shu Qi) whom Chen Zhen quickly becomes attracted to.
The wikipedia entry for this movie states that Chen Zhen “is romantically attracted to Kiki,” however this is hardly evident in the film.
I know they’re Chinese, and they’re not good at that whole “love” thing, or y’know; talking to each other, but when 2 characters never so much as hold hands throughout a movie, I find it hard to believe they’re “romantically attracted” to each other.
Not only that, but their most intimate moment is actually when Chen Zhen threatens to kill her.
Anyway, in case you couldn’t tell; Kiki really ruined the movie for me.
Her character’s arc, much like the flow of the entire film, is predictable; yet somehow all over the place all at the same time.
Not only that, she’s shitfaced for roughly 3 quarters of the film, making her a very difficult character to like.
I’m guessing her character was supposed to be tragic, but in the end; she just brought the whole movie down by needlessly slowing the pace with frequent, and boring dialogue scenes.
Speaking of boring dialogue scenes, Return of Chen Zhen has a fuck ton of ’em!
In most cases I can deal with inane and extraneous dialogue, but in the case of this movie; I actually found myself muttering the words:
“Jesus fuck man, I DON’T CARE.”
Well okay, I didn’t exactly “mutter” those words so much as yell them, but you get the point.
Needless to say, Return of Chen Zhen has some writing issues… And pacing issues… And it smells funny.
Now, when I said Return of Chen Zhen was a “bipolar” movie, I was of course speaking of it’s up and down pacing, specifically the jarring contrast between it’s action sequences, and the rest of the film.
Return of Chen Zhen has some pretty spankin’ fight sequences.
While nearly all of it is of the classic, Dynasty Warriors/1 man vs. the world style, most of it is well choreographed, and perhaps more importantly; competently shot.
Make no mistake, while the staging of the fights was indeed very good in Return of Chen Zhen, the editor, and perhaps more importantly; the cinematographer deserve a special pat on the back for their contributions.
Donnie Yen served as action choreographer for this one, and if there’s anything Donnie Yen is good at; it’s making himself look good.
While I heard reports that indicated an excessive use of stunt doubles for this film, I can honestly say that I didn’t notice them.
I’m assuming most of the parkour and stunt work was filmed using doubles, but everything that counts in my book, that is; the punching and kicking of people’s faces, was definitely all Yen.
Trust me, nobody throws kicks like Donnie Yen, nobody.
Speaking of which, from an action standpoint, Return of Chen Zhen serves as a sort of “best of” for Donnie Yen’s various trademark moves.
From the leaping spinning back kick above, to the cheesy windmill uppercuts of old, to even some of the joint locks and MMA style moves seen in SPL and Flashpoint; pretty much every cool thing Donnie Yen has done to someone throughout his career is featured, and ably performed in this movie at some point, with satisfyingly brutal results.
Though sadly there’s no breakdance fighting ala Mismatched Couples…
Getting back to the movie, seeing as most of the fight sequences in Return of Chen Zhen have Mr. Yen clothed in a Kato-esque mask and suit, the movements and strikes incorporated into the choreography bear a satisfying and altogether appropriate “superhero-y” quality to them.
That is to say:
When people get hit in this movie, they fly across the room and then some.
Normally I’m not a fan of wirework in my kung fu movies, but their use in this film was largely used for the simple effect of slamming people into bookcases/windows/walls/platypuses, instead of the more fanciful bullshit as in Dragon Tiger Gate and other such films.
In all, Donnie Yen’s physical performance was nothing short of incredible in Return of Chen Zhen.
Given his relatively advanced age for the genre, (47) dreading the day when Donnie Yen suddenly gets old overnight and can’t perform as well he used to, but goddamnit; Father Time must owe him money or something, ’cause if anything he looked better in this movie than he did 2 years ago.
My guess is, the Ip Man movies actually served to smother Mr. Yen’s performances a bit over the past few years.
Wing Chun is a very practical, and straightforward fighting system; and one that is foreign to Donnie Yen’s martial talents.
As I mentioned earlier, Return of Chen Zhen was choreographed by Donnie Yen, for Donnie Yen, and in getting back to the basics, I think Mr. Yen showed us all that he’s still got it.
Anyway, enough cock-sucking.
In closing, I’d just like to point out a few little tidbits I felt needed mentioning:
They’re brief, and largely pointless; but it was fun seeing them nonetheless.
Would’ve really liked to have seen Kurata do a bit of fighting, seeing as he seemed relatively spry in Master of Thunder a few years ago, but oh well; take what you can get.
The vast majority of the sets for Return of Chen Zhen were very obviously recycled from the one used for Bodyguards and Assassins.
While it’s an incredible set, and definitely worth revisiting, there’s no denying that it was framed with a lot more love in Bodyguards and Assassins, and thusly comes across as kind of cheap looking this time around.
Also, if you’ve seen Bodyguards and Assassins, then it’s kind of surreal looking at little things like staircases and windows and remembering them, very clearly; from their use in that movie, which is peculiar being as Bodyguards and Assassins took place in Hong Kong, while Return of Chen Zhen is set in Shanghai.
I suppose it’s worth noting that, yes; the Japanese are the villains of this movie, and yes; they are portrayed as the most vile, baby boiling, dog kicking sons of bitches you’ve ever met.
Xenophobia has always been marketable in Chinese films, and nothing is ever gonna’ change that.
Regardless of how bad they make my people look, as long as Hong Kong keeps pumping out awesome movies about people kicking each other in the brain, I honestly don’t care.
Anyway, the plot sucked, the characters were boring, the dialogue was excessive and dull… but the fighting was pretty good.
If you love to see Donnie Yen do his thing, see it.
If not, then all you’re really missing is Donnie Yen’s butt.
Can you live without seeing Donnie Yen’s butt?