Donnie Yen returns as Chen Zhen in what could be deemed a sequel to Bruce Lee's "Fist of Fury" aka "Chinese Connection" (1972), Jet Li's "Fist of Legend" (1994), or Yen's own "Fist of Fury" Chinese television series, from 1995. Or perhaps even the 3rd film following Yuen Woo Ping's "Legend of a Fighter" (1982) or Jet Li's "Fearless" (2006). Luckily the movie's much easier to sort out than my explanation of the work that sequentially preceded it! ALL are great films but none are necessary to view prior to this.
The film starts out in France at the end of WW1. I don't recall how much time elapses between then and when Chen Zhen returns home but I didn't think that Japan entered China until 1931, though the gap was probably explained and I missed it. He joins a group of rebels and, under the pseudonym of a deceased comrade, becomes part owner of a large night club run by Chinese fat-cats who plan to profit from war, civil or otherwise. In preventing an attack on a Chinese military general, Chen Zhen dons the costume of a movie hero (Kato, Zorro, Black Mask, you pick) and saves the man's life. The Japanese are outraged and try to find the culprit. In the meantime he is also romancing the club's singer (Shu Qi, "The Transporter", "Gorgeous") who may have ulterior motives of her own.
The fights: I try to be as objective as possible, but it's Donnie Yen's own words that I am basing my rating on: he notoriously (and justifiably) ripped apart poorly edited, wire-laden fight scenes a few years ago during the height of his "S.P.L./Flash Point" era and prides himself on choreographing better scenes, which he most certainly has done, and in many other titles than the two just mentioned. Do the fights in this suck? Absolutely not! However they are a noticeable step down from the work he has done in the last half-decade under director Wilson Yip. Here Yen's wire-work is better than most of Yuen Woo Ping's (whose choreography I love but have grown increasingly tired of) but not as good as his own "Dragon Tiger Gate". The editing is also overly choppy, which is not to say it's awful, but we all know that Yen is capable of much better stuff. He IS credited here as action director.
Overall this is an enjoyable film with good enough fights to please most martial arts movie fans and I'm sure I'll watch it multiple times. If I had a non-fight gripe it would have to be about the absence of the great Yasuaki Kurata who is credited but barely glimpsed at all. The overall theme seems to be that the Japanese military, prior to (and during) WW2, were complete jerks. That's what I came away with though I did watch this the same day as "Black Belt" (2007), and was likely biased. I certainly don't think Yen felt that way in "Ip Man", lol.
The picture quality on this Media Asia release is widescreen and excellent. The "making of" segment is quite extensive and features Yen on piano, enthusiastically jamming Scott Joplin tunes between takes. In Cantonese or Mandarin with removable English subtitles.