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Fist of Legend

Top-notch action, stars and directing are highlights

Published: Monday, March 29 1999 4:32 p.m. MST

If you're going remake a film, it should be better than (or at least different from) the original. And surprisingly, "Fist of Legend" manages to do just that.

This exciting 1994 martial-arts action film is a remake of Bruce Lee's second film, the 1972 thriller "The Chinese Connection." It's also a first-rate showcase for "Lethal Weapon 4" co-star Jet Li, who steps into Lee's big shoes.

Fortunately, he is more than capable of living up to the task, with command of an array of fighting styles (including karate and traditional fisticuffs) that is mind-boggling. Consequently, the plentiful fight scenes here are at least as good as those in any of his other Hong Kong cinema work.

The story is set in pre-World War II Asia, and follows Chen Zhen (Li), a martial-arts practicioner attending a university in Kyoto, Japan. There, he learns of the death of his mentor, slain by a Japanese brawler.

Over the protestations of his Japanese girlfriend, Mitsuko (Shinobu Nakayama), Chen returns to Shanghai looking for revenge. However, a fight with his new adversary leaves Chen with more questions, including the suspicion that his mentor may have been poisoned.

Continuing his dogged quest, Chen manages to alienate his former best friend (Chin Siu-hou) and make a deadly enemy of a fearless Japanese general (Billy Chow), who is intent on conquering China.

The action is top-notch, with several dazzling fight sequences — especially one in which Chen takes out an entire class of Japanese fighters.

Of course, that's due in no small part to Li, who's at his best here. Also, director Gordon Chan, who has gone on to become his country's most popular action director, does a fine job of capturing the action. (Yuen Woo Ping, Li's most frequent filmmaking collaborator, helped choreograph the fight scenes, and it shows.)

Chan, who co-wrote the script, makes another good move by reducing the fervent anti-Japanese message that marred the original, balancing out the depiction of villainous characters and even humanizing Li's character (one thing he's never been known for is on-screen warmth).

"Fist of Legend" is not rated, but would probably receive a PG-13 for violent martial-arts fighting, swordplay and gunplay, gore and use of a few racial epithets.

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