Director: Jet Li
Writer: Si Yeung Ping
Cast: Jet Li, Paulo Tocha, Cho Wing, Dean Harrington, Mark King, Deon Lam Dik On, Dan Mintz
Running Time: 90 min.
Jet Li’s directorial debut is better than some of his other films with more accomplished and recognized directors, but don’t be too quick to chalk that up to an abundance of talent on his part. When “some of his other films with more accomplished and recognized directors” includes the likes of New Legend of Shaolin (Wong Jing) and The Master (Tsui Hark), he could probably film himself picking his nose for an hour and a half and it would look good by comparison.
After a fierce firefight between Chinese and Japanese forces at the end of World War II, our hero finds himself struggling to readjust to a (comparatively) peaceful life in his old home town. He crashes with an old friend who claims his daughter is dead and drives a rickshaw to support himself.
Trouble brewing: obnoxious members of the U.S. Navy, of only marginally higher character than the Nazis they’ve just helped defeat, are molesting women, endangering the townsfolk, and generally wreaking havoc on Jet’s turf. I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with someone who dismisses this aspect of the film as little more than a childish, pissy attitude about Americans or Westerners, but justification certainly exists for the “glory hog” factor; these gwailos would have you believe that they single-handedly put a stop to the war, sort of like how many people today (April 6th, 2002) can’t sing the praises of American troops deployed in Afghanistan loudly enough while neglecting to mention the invaluable contributions of the Northern Afghan Alliance. Just goes to show you how a movie can achieve a certain sense of timelessness even when the specifics are out of date. (Fuck, THAT sounded pretentious.)
Anyway, when Jet’s friend gets hospitalized, he donates a huge amount of blood (drawn from his veins in wince-inducing close-up shots with the biggest hypodermic you’ve ever seen) and goes into the rickshaw-hauling biz himself to keep the cash coming in. He also fights pugnacious Americans in a bar with a boxing ring in it and befriends a kind-hearted prostitute. The fight scenes, all wire-free, are few in number but make up for that with their length and intensity. Jet has to rely on his fists more heavily than he would like and actually gets pummeled quite a bit. He really has only two noteworthy opponents, with the grueling match against the really tall captain in the middle of the film being the highlight.
It’s a decent enough fight fest, with the vengeance factor being sufficient to overshadow the sappy subplot, but it’s not Jet Li at his best. Seeing him get pissed both off and (literally) on will get a rise out of you, but certain other elements, like the simultaneous thunder and lightning (how often does that actually happen?) when a villain removes his oh-so-badass sunglasses merely provide unintentional comic relief. It’s also worth noting that there is a large amount of English dialogue in this movie and that, unsurprisingly, it tends to make the Westerners sound like even bigger jackasses than they’re supposed to be. The film isn’t exactly bursting with promises of things to come, but still, if Jet announced that he was directing another one, I wouldn’t complain.
Numskull’s Rating: 7/10