Jet Li brings out the best in `Fearless'

Critics' picks: New DVDs

December 17, 2006|By CHRIS KALTENBACH

JET LI'S FEARLESS -- Universal Studios Home Entertainment -- $29.95

Twelve years after making what many regard as the definitive martial arts flick, 1994's Fist of Legend, Beijing-born Jet Li announced that he was leaving behind the movies that made him an international star. His last wushu film would be this year's Fearless, a tribute to his spiritual and martial-arts mentor, legendary Chinese master Huo Yuanjia.

Talk about leaving on top; Fearless is more than one of Li's best films, a work true to his art's ultimately pacifist spirit. It's also one of the best films of the year, an ode to honor and self-worth, the story of a man who not only accepts the dire consequences of his actions, but uses them as an opportunity to grow.

Li plays Huo, a turn-of-the-century wushu master who, at a time when China was regarded as little more than a toy for the West to play with, used his skills and his honor to help restore his country's pride.

The film, and Huo's career, culminates in a 1910 contest pitting him against Japanese champion Anno Tanaka.

As one would expect, the action of Fearless, choreographed by the peerless Yuen Woo Ping, can be breathtaking. A fight early in the film, for example, takes place atop a tower in the middle of a town square, and offers all manner of stunts, both gravity- and death-defying.

But the real triumph of Fearless lies in the movie's spirit, its embrace of a world where honor and skill are equally important. The film demonizes no one.

Rather, heroes and villains reside within each character, and the struggle is not to overcome one's adversaries, but to keep bringing out the best in one's self. In these jaded times, that's a message we all need to hear.

Special features

Not much. This "unrated" version looks to be about a minute longer than the theatrical release, so it's hard to figure what brought about the un-rating. Supplementary materials include a five-minute deleted scene, in which Li's character comes to the defense of a young boy, and a 15-minute documentary in which Li discusses why he made Fearless and why he's leaving wushu films behind.

ALSO ANTICIPATED

WHEN THE LEVEES BROKE: A REQUIEM IN FOUR ACTS --HBO Video -- $29.95

Spike Lee's stirring, scathing look at the devastation caused when Hurricane Katrina took on New Orleans, When the Levees Broke is a testimony to human endurance (on the part of New Orleans residents forced to deal with catastrophe on a scale never before witnessed by a modern American city) and human incompetence (on the part of government agencies that proved more hurtful than helpful).

Special features

Extras in the three-disc set include a 105-minute epilogue (think of it as Act V) in which Lee explores further the aftermath of Katrina and the botched recovery efforts; an audio commentary by Lee; and a gallery of David Lee photos, backed by the music of Terrence Blanchard.

CHRIS KALTENBACH

chris.kaltenbach@baltsun.com

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