Gordon Chan | 99 mins | TV | 18 / R
I found myself watching Fist of Legend unintentionally following this year’s Children in Need appeal. The significance of this piece of trivia is that I watched it on TV, which means I had to watch it dubbed. Apparently, “it is regarded as one of the best martial arts films of all time, and almost universally viewed as Jet Li’s best” (thank you Wikipedia), but the dub does its utmost to obscure this.
Putting the audio aside (for the moment), the film has a lot to recommend it — primarily, the fights. At 2am, after seven hours of near-solid TV watching, it was these that drew me in. I’m no expert on martial arts, but I do like a good fight (on film) and Fist of Legend serves up plenty of those. In fact, there’s approximately one every five minutes, an impressively high ratio that consciously — and very pleasingly — fulfills what you want from this kind of film. This quantity doesn’t seem to have damaged quality either: all are generally impressive, but there are some particularly good ideas floating about too, such as a long fight where both participants are blindfolded.
There’s a plot too, which includes a few surprisingly surprising twists and an interesting undercurrent of Japanese/Chinese racial tensions thanks to the setting (1937, during a Japanese occupation of Shanghai). This adds an extra level to what could otherwise be a stock revenge plot.
So, that just leaves the soundtrack. The English audio is at least as bad as you’d imagine, and a reminder — if one were needed — about why dubbing foreign language films is so hated. Whatever the qualities of the film itself, the clichéd dub script and flat voiceover performances, awkwardly delivered to fit the actor’s mouth movements, make the film look cheap and poorly done. On the bright side, the main villain has an amusingly gravelly “I am playing a villain!” voice.
If you can look past the rubbish dub (which I should imagine is even easier on DVD, what with turning it off), Fist of Legend is very enjoyable. However, with the action being the primary source of pleasure, those who don’t like martial arts movies may want to imagine a lower score.