Review: 'Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen'

Special to the Los Angeles Times

The character of Chen Zhen is a fixture in Chinese pop culture, having been played in previous films by Bruce Lee and Jet Li and on television by Donnie Yen, who now brings the role to the big screen in "Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen."

The film opens with Chen Zhen -- who will transform from war hero to playboy before becoming a full-fledged crime fighter -- taking out a group of WWI German soldiers in Europe in a wild set-piece that combines the urban acrobatics of French parkour with the rough-and-tumble fighting of martial arts. That sequence, however, turns out to be the high point of the movie, which soon becomes bogged down in the politics of occupation against the background Shanghai nightlife.

However much it might be historically accurate, director Andrew Lau places too much emphasis on the tensions between the Chinese locals and their Japanese occupiers (and the stream of racial invectives in the subtitles is rather off-putting).

Lau also made the film "Infernal Affairs," which became the basis for Martin Scorsese's Oscar-winning crime movie "The Departed." Although "Legend of the Fist" is slick, stylish and assured, it is also bloated and hollow, and seemingly without much sense of what actually is working. The film feels as if its makers are just tossing out a lot of ideas to see if any of them will take hold.

Unexpectedly flatfooted when it should be light on its toes, "Legend of The Fist" fails to pack much of a punch.

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