Sunday, January 11th, 2009 at 10:59 am
Jet Li’s Fearless Blu-ray Edition
Directed by Ronny Yu
Starring Jet Li, Nakamura Shidou, Sun Li, Dong Yong, Nathan Jones
Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Release Date: December 9, 2008
Jet Li was planning to stop making martial art movies after the filming of Fearless. He didn’t stick to that plan, but had he done so he would have gone out on an extremely high note.
Fearless tells the story of the life of Huo Yuanjia (played by Li), though it takes some major liberties for dramatic effect. In real life, Huo had many children and grandchildren, not a single daughter, and he was not the only person responsible for the forming of the Chin Woo Athletic Association. Also, humorously, the film greatly embellishes the facts around the fight between Huo and a boxer named O’Brien (Nathan Jones). In reality, there was never any fight, O’Brien simply left town after a dispute over the rules of the match. I don’t imagine that would make a great sequence in a martial art film though, so it’s safe to say the film was “inspired by” Huo’s life rather than a factual account of it.
The Blu-Ray edition holds three versions of the film: theatrical, unrated, and director’s cut. I can count on one hand the number of director’s cuts that are significantly different from the original film. Fearless is one of those films and the director’s cut is a significant improvement over the theatrical version. Running 40 minutes (yes, you read that correctly, 40 minutes) longer that original version, director Ronny Yu found a lot more story to tell, with none of it seeming gratuitous.
I remember when the film was originally released, there was a lot of hype and promotion dedicated to the mixed combats matches where Li fights a boxer, wrestler, fencer, etc. and so the theatrical version seemed to be edited just to satisfy this push by putting these fights right at the beginning even though they happen at the very end of the story. Yu’s cut puts them where they belong, at the end. What we get instead is a movie with better narrative flow and more substance. The director’s cut takes a more intimate look at Huo Yuanjia’s internal struggle and sets things in chronological order, but that doesn’t mean the film’s intense battles have been toned down. In fact, there is an additional storyline and fight not included in the original cut. Overall, Yu’s cut of the film is much more satisfying — so much so that, now that I’ve seen it, I do not think I could go back to watch the original cut without feeling like half the movie is missing.
As with all Universal Blu-Rays I have had the pleasure to review thus far, the picture quality is outstanding. Though a good portion of the film takes place in poorer run-down areas, dream combat sequences bring the screen to life in vivid colorful details in 1080p. The soundtrack includes a Mandarin DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track for all three cuts of the film, while the the original and unrated versions also have the option of an English or French DTS 5.1 track. But come on, you should be watching this movie in Mandarin.
The disc only really lacks when it comes to special features, of which there is only one. A short behind the scenes look at the making of the film seems dated and unnecessary already by its focus on the idea that Fearless would be Li’s last martial arts film. There’s really nothing else on here, and this feature, which plays at a maximum of 480p, is only a few minutes long. Given that the film is all about one of China’s national heroes, I expected at least a little something dedicated to the man that inspire the film. When a film is that enjoyable, one hopes for some supplementary material to watch, even once, so the lack of it really disappointing.
Final Score: Movie: A for Director’s Cut, B for Theatrical/Unrated Versions Picture: A Sound: A Bonus Features: F Blu-Ray Exclusives: None