Born to Defence
"...there's not a SINGLE wire trick in this movie [at least I don't remember that there is]. Jet Li gets real physical [and violent] fighting all the western kick boxers and brawlers."
Born to Defence (1990)
AKA: Born to Defend
Director: Jet Li
Writer: Jia Er-Ge, Yeung-Ping Sze
Cast: Jet Lee, Zhao Er Kang, Song Jia, Kurt Roland Peterson, Paulo H.P. Tocha
Running Time: ?
Plot: It is 1945, and the war has just ended in China, but for one member of the Chinese forces a new battle is about to begin. Returning to his home town Jet becomes involved in a conflict with a group of American troops, whose aggressive behaviour towards the locals, in particular his friends and relatives, is tearing the community apart. Jet finds his match with the overpoweringly strong Bailey, a champion in western boxing, and in a spectacular fight in the ring he gets to prove his martial arts skills against the giant. However, Jet's valiant attempts to defend the honour of his people ends in tragedy and it is now up to Jet to bring the foreign devils to justice.
NUMSKULL'S REVIEW: 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
YATE'S REVIEW: This movie made me want to go outside and beat up some gweilos. No wire-fu (which I actually prefer), but interesting nonetheless. Jet Li shows that he is a competent director, and you gotta love a movie this anti-American.
YATE'S RATING: 6.75/10
PERKELE'S REVIEW: Well well, could a movie have a better start than this early Jet Li vehicle? It's World War II! Yes, there are people using guns and tanks but wait! What's this? Are these Chinese actually using MARTIAL ARTS in this battle??? Throw in a few death-defying stunts and you get one of the most absurd war footage ever filmed [they didn't seem to have too big budget filming this]. So now you already want to see this flick, but let me reveal a few more things about it firstÉ
"Born to Defence" [yes, it's originally spelled that way but some sources have re-released it as "Born to Defend"] is not your typical Jet Li wire-fu costume fantasy. And that's just why you should get this film. So when your asshole I-watch-only-Jet-Li-kung-fu friends next time ask you whether you got new Jet Li-kung-fu [because everything else sucks], you can answer: "Now well of course, I recently bought this here movie, "Born to Defence", and it's even directed by Jet Li!" Then your friends get excited: "Hey! Let's watch that one! Maybe it's as good as "Once China Pan Time VII" or "Last Homo in China"! There must be many great fight scenes where Jet flies around for about five minutes in a lion costume and every place is exploding without any reason AT ALL! That would be sooo cool!"
And as you might have guessed by know, there's not a SINGLE wire trick in this movie [at least I don't remember that there is]. Jet Li gets real physical [and violent] fighting all the western kick boxers and brawlers. Too bad he suffered from back injury during the making of this movie and therefore has used stunt doubles [and wires] ever since. "Born to Defence" is Jet's fourth film, the earlier efforts being "The Shaolin Temple" movies. This is also Jet's one and only self-directed movie. And it works quite well; "Born to Defence" upstages his later shit like "Kung Fu Cult Master" or "Hitman" 10-0. So if you're interested in seeing Jet in a different role, using Wu Shu against western king boxing moves, check this one out. Recommended, especially for all you Jet Li fanatics [though many of you will hate it].
PERKELE'S RATING: 5.5/10