In "Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen," Donnie Yen plays Chen Zhen, a fictional character that first appeared n a 1972 Hong Kong movie "Fist of Fury" (aka "The Big Boss"). In the film Bruce Lee played the role of the hero, which has been taken up in many films and TV shows since then, including "Fist of Legend" starring Jet Li and, of course, a 1995 TV series starring Donnie Yen as Chen Zhen. Donnie Yen's new feature film directed by Andrew Lau is not a remake of the Bruce Lee film, but a sequel paying homage to the martial arts legend.
The story is largely set in 1925 Shanghai. Chen Zhen, who has returned from WWI, is now a member of the resistance group to stop Japanese army from invading China. Hiding his true identity, Zhen visits a club (named "Casablanca") owned by Liu Yutian (Anthony Wong), where Japanese and Western military officers including a Japanese colonel Rikiishi (Ryu Kohata) frequent. There Chen meets a beautiful singer Kiki (Shu Qi), who also has a secret or two to hide from him.
There are so many characters (including a cameo from Yasuaki Kurata, a familiar face of the 70s martial arts action films made in Hong Kong and Japan) and so many ideas and references thrown in. Some of the characters are unnecessary (do we really need Western characters here?). Some references are amusing (Green Hornet sidekick "Kato," for instance); others are pretty obscure (one character's name is Yamaguchi, possibly referring to a real-life actress Shirley Yamaguchi). But wait, isn't this supposed to be an action movie?
Action scenes (choreographed by Donnie Yen himself) are certainly unique and powerful. The best part is the first scene in which Yen's Chen Zhen fights back the German soldiers in the WWI battlefield like a deadly version of Spider-man. Action sequences are mostly well-done except the very disappointing fight with Ryu Kohata in the climax. All the fast editing and camerawork cannot mask the fact that Kohata is not ready for the role as the opponent to Donnie Yen's hero. I read Kohata was an amateur boxer, but obviously he needs more skills as a fighter and an actor. You need someone like Sonny Chiba, someone with martial arts skills and charisma here.
Not a bad action movie, but far inferior to "Ip Man."