Reviewer: Jeffrey M. Anderson
Rating (ouf of 5): ***1/2
Andrew Lau (Infernal Affairs) directs this ornate period costume movie, and though it's heavy on the history and may be a tad confusing to Westerners, it all becomes clear enough when Donnie Yen leaps into action. It begins with a flashback to the Sino-Japanese War (1937 to 1945), wherein the Chinese were nothing more than unarmed laborers sent to the front lines. Trapped and unwilling to let the Japanese mow down his colleagues and himself, Chen Zhen (Yen) decides to do something about it. Leaping over barricades and around walls, he takes out several Japanese, including a deadly sniper.
Returning home, he assumes the identity of one of his fallen comrades and joins an underground resistance movement. Undercover, he befriends a nightclub owner, Liu Yutian (Anthony Wong), whose club, the Casablanca, attracts many important dignitaries. Unfortunately, he also meets nightclub singer Kiki (Shu Qi), who may be more than just a nightclub singer. Chen learns about an assassination attempt that could start a Civil War, and so -- in the spur of the moment -- he dons a superhero costume (quite like the one The Green Hornet's sidekick Kato wears) -- and saves the day. Of course, his appearance causes even more trouble.
No doubt following up on the current trend for big, expensive homemade movies in China, Lau goes all out with the décor and costumes on this one; the movie is gorgeous and contains some kind of entertaining treat every few minutes. There are musical numbers, fights, as well as glamour and witty exchanges. But Lau also knows how to turn out an entertainment, and he keeps the pace quick and the running time down to 106 minutes (it easily could have been an epic slog).
Overall, it's the action that sells the movie, and thankfully Lau stays old school Hong Kong rather than modern-day Hollywood. The action is gloriously kinetic and smooth. It practically glides across the screen, with barely any hand-held, shaky-cam stuff in sight. Yen is a terrific, charismatic star, good at low-key, humble heroes; even if you've never seen him before, you'll be singing his praises. Likewise, Shu Qi may be one of the world's most elegant movie stars; she has appeared in wide range of films from Hou Hsiao-hsien's work to the first Transporter movie.
If the name Chen Zhen sounds familiar, it's perhaps because Bruce Lee played the fictitious folk hero in Fist of Fury (1972) and Jet Li played him in Fist of Legend (1994).
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