Jet Li’s Fearless claims to be a martial arts epic, something like Hero or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but there’s very little epic about it. The fight scenes are spectacular (indeed, the only reason to watch the movie), but they are strung together by a plot so contrived and clichèd that, were it not on the screen and set in China, one might mistake it for a medieval morality play, and a poorly-written one at that.
The main character is a man named Huo Yuan Jia (Jet Li), the son of a Wushu master who longs to learn martial arts himself. After watching his father lose a match, and getting himself beat up immediately afterwards, Huo Yuan Jia swears that he will never be beaten again.
When next we meet Huo, he is a grown man, a Wushu master seeking to become the Champion of Tianjian, and who, true to his oath, has never lost a fight (and after this awkward transition one must wonder how he learned to fight, since his father refused to teach him). He has also grown arrogant and selfish, however, and soon enough this leads to tragedy. Seeking to discover himself, Huo retreats from the world to a rural Chinese village, following another inexplicable scene transition, and stays there for several years, although you wouldn’t know it from the way the scene is shot. There he meets a young woman named Moon (Betty Sun), who teaches him about humility and what is important in life. Finally, he goes back to Tianjian to be in some more awesome fight scenes.
A lot in this movie is questionable, most notably the plot, as mentioned above, but also the acting. Jet Li has never been taken as a great actor, but as Huo Yuan Jia he is so shamefully bad, his transformation so unbelievable and awkward, that he drags down this already-weak movie rather than bringing it up. The rest of the actors – though there aren’t many of them – are no more than caricatures, although Shido Nakamura deserves some notice for a fine performance in the minor role of Tanaka. Both Yong Dong, as Huo Yuan Jia’s best friend Nong Jinsun, and Betty Sun as Moon, are trite and wooden, plot devices more than characters. The transitions, between scenes and especially over large gaps of space or time, are atrocious. The directing is not particularly good. Not much about Jet Li’s Fearless is particularly good, in fact, except for the fight choreography.
By the way, the fight choreography is awesome.
Sadly, fight scenes do not make a good movie. Jet Li’s Fearless plays like a combination of a documentary about the founding of the Jin Wu Sports Federation aimed at middle school students and a Wushu instructional video, though I’m sure that either of those would have been more entertaining. The plot blends together elements of many fine martial arts movies, but the result is a noxious mishmash with very little appeal. Enjoy the fight scenes, but plan on spending a lot of time in the bathroom if you go to see this movie.