Directed by Gordon Chan and starring Jet Li, this 1994 film is considered by many to be one of the best martial arts films around.
Contrary to popular belief, "Fist of Legend" is not a remake of the classic Bruce Lee film, "Fists of Fury" (which itself was simply a North American renaming of "The Big Boss"). However, the story is loosely based on another Bruce Lee film, "The Chinese Connection" (again, another North American renaming of, go figure, "Fist of Fury"), in that Jet Li plays Chen Zhen who returns to his old kung-fu school to investigate the death of his former master. He is told by the master's son that he was killed during a duel with a Japanese karate instructor. Chen goes to the dojo to challenge the instructor, only to learn that it was all part of an elaborate plot by the Japanese to undermine the school and, in turn, the spirit of the Chinese population, while preparing for an invasion.
What will you like about this film?
The fighting scenes, of course! The actions scenes were choreographed by the famous Yuen Woo-Ping, director of many other films such as "Iron Monkey", and choreographer of the fighting in "The Matrix". While many may rue Yuen's use of wires in "enhancing" the martial arts in many of his films, it is used very minimally here. In fact, this film is probably one of the purest martial arts films that Jet Li's ever done (along with "Kiss of the Dragon"). The scene where he takes on everyone (yes, we're talking about over a dozen people at a time!) at the karate dojo has to be seen to be believed. Plus, the final battle with the evil Japanese general Fujita (Billy Chow) is one hell of a brutal fight.
You may also like how the film delves into the racial divide between the Japanese and the Chinese. Not all of the Japanese in this film are portrayed as one-sided evil invaders, such as Sensei Funakoshi, a character who disagrees with the Japanese military presence in China. Nor are all of the Chinese characters good and pure as evidenced in the scene where Chen takes his Japanese girlfriend to a hotel, only to be chased out of it by the intolerant inhabitants who hate the Japanese.
What won't you like about the film?
Well, it depends on which version you watch. There is the original version from Hong Kong which you can find on VCD or DVD at a Chinese video store. Or there is the one released by Dimension Films which adds a new soundtrack and cuts out a few scenes. Needless to say, I'm a big fan of the original and really don't like it when the American studios decide to rework Hong Kong films for re-release in North America. In this case, the cuts and the new soundtrack were really unnecessary and actually take away from the tone of the movie but I guess they've got to give some work to somebody.
Plus, if you're really looking for a strong plot, you're not going to find it here. It boils to down to a simple revenge story.
Where can you find this film?
You can find the Dimension version anywhere. However, if you can get your hands on the original (Universal or Ritek, Cantonese with English subtitles), go for it. To do that, you should try contacting some Chinese friends of yours and asking them to get a copy for you. :-)
Or you could try going to some online Asian film stores such as HKFlix or YesAsia.