Based on a true story, "Fearless" chronicles the life of Chinese martial arts master Huo Yuanjia (Jet Li), who grew up with a winner-take-all mentality but, after a personal tragedy, eventually formed the respectful, unifying Jingwu Sports Federation. He was known for defending China in a four-on-one tournament against the world's best competitors.
Big question: Can Li go out with a bang in his final martial arts epic?
Catch it: Swords? Spears? Fists? You name it, Li can handle it, and this astonishingly agile actor flutters through fights that will yank your jaw to the floor. In between battles, "Fearless" takes time to let Yuanjia age from a rough-around-the-edges fighter to a learned hero who earned the support and respect of a nation.
Skip it: If you're looking for 100 minutes of nonstop action. Sorry, there's actually a story here too.
Bottom line: "Fearless" works better as a personal movie than a political one, and the quieter midsection would be stronger without its bluntly stated themes. But with precisely choreographed fight sequences and a no-nonsense lesson about honor and self-control, Li kicks his way out of the genre with class.
Bonus: A word of warning to anyone thinking of becoming a martial artist: If a competition requires you to sign a "Death Waiver," you may in over your head.
Matt Pais is the metromix movies producer.
Directed by Ronny Yu; written by Chris Chow, Christine To; photographed by Poon Hang Sang; edited by Virginia Katz, Richard Learoyd; production designed by Kenneth Mak; music by Shigeru Umebayashi; produced by Bill Kong, Jet Li, Yu, Yang Buting. In Mandarin Chinese and English, with English subtitles. A Rogue Pictures release; opens Friday. Running time: 1.43. MPAA rating: PG-13 (for violence and martial arts action throughout).
Huo Yuanjia - Jet Li
Anno Tanaka - Nakamura Shidou
Moon - Sun Li
Nong Jinsun - Dong Yong
Yuanjia's mother - Paw Hee Ching
Chin - Chen ZhihuiCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times