Even if you don’t know that Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen is a continuation of the 1995 Hong Kong television series Fist of Fury, which was based on the 1972 film of the same name starring Bruce Lee, it is an entertaining martial-arts movie.
The prologue opens in 1917 France with Chen Zhen (Donnie Yen, who also served as action choreographer) as one of 150,000 workers sent to France to fight and assist the allies against the Germans. Zhen is called upon to save a group of his Chinese compatriots through a captivating action sequence when the enemy pins them down. While in France, Zhen switches identities with a fallen comrade before returning to Shanghai. I enjoyed the scenes set in France because it’s not one I was very familiar with as a setting for this genre.
The story then moves forward to 1925 Shanghai, which is occupied by Japanese forces. Zhen gets a job at a nightclub called Casablanca owned by Master Liu (Anthony Wong), and that Bogart film is not all Legend of the Fist alludes to. Zhen also moonlights as a vigilante against the Japanese forces, patrolling the city at night like Batman. This persona is dubbed the Masked Avenger and he has a look similar to the Green Hornet’s Kato, also a role played by Bruce Lee.
Zhen isn’t superhuman and one man can fight off an army for only so long. He ends up in the clutches of the villainous Colonel Chikaraishi Takeshi (Kohata Ryu), who reveals to Zhen a long-standing grudge. This vendetta could be linked to the TV series, but it seems more like a forced bit of screenwriting as it sets up the big fight for the finale considering Takeshi easily could have had Zhen killed and been done with him. It would have been better if the grudge had been revealed earlier. However on a positive note, the actions of Zhen’s Shanghai Irregulars breaking him out were well executed, a great combination of action and explosions.
Andrew Lau also does double duty on the film as director and cinematographer. He captures the action well and does a very good job with lighting and camera placement. I have a couple of small critiques for each job. After the pace of the film’s first two acts, the third slowed down too much as Zhen spent most of it recovering. The French sequences have too much of the in-vogue teal/orange appearance, creating too modern of a look for the historical setting. Otherwise, he handles both tasks well.
Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen is an enjoyable movie I would recommend seeing on the big screen. Hope to see Yen as the character return soon.