After a series of American features ("Romeo Must Die", "The One") that weren't able to put his talents to use, Jet Li has rebounded with films like "Unleashed" and "Hero", which showed off both his acting and martial arts ability. "Fearless", from director Ronny Yu and legendary choreographer Woo-Ping Yuen (the "Matrix" films, the "Kill Bill" films, "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and many others) may not be among Li's best films, but if it is his last martial arts effort (which it reportedly is), it is certainly not a bad finale.
The film has Li playing Huo Yuanjia, the head of a martial arts school would eventually found the Jin Wu Sports federation and become a national hero. The picture starts off with Huo effortlessly beating a series of varied competitors at a championship match. Before facing the champion, the film flashes back to Huo's childhood as the son of a great fighter through a tragedy years later and through his meditative recovery before coming back to the final match at the championship. While a rather straightforward story, Li and director Ronny Yu do manage a nice mix of intense action sequences and subtle, dramatic moments.
The picture does contain more than its fair share of remarkably graceful and beautifully choreographed action sequences, with Li moving a lot faster than his 42 years would suggest. If he's hanging up his career in martial arts films due to age, it certainly doesn't look like that's giving him much trouble throughout this picture. The only concern with the action scenes is that CGI is obviously employed to give a larger-than-life aspect to some moments in the fight scenes. While the film doesn't use CGI extensively, it's not necessary (the fight sequences are spectacular enough without) and the moments that do call attention to themselves.
Overall, while Li has certainly been featured in stronger martial arts films in the past (as recently as "Hero"), but "Fearless" is still an engaging effort whose running time moves as swiftly as Li does.
The theatrical and unrated cuts are included here. The presentations seemed mostly the same, aside from what appeared to be some additional graphic moments during the fight scenes.
VIDEO: "Fearless" is presented in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen by Universal. The presentation quality isn't without some concerns, but the presentation otherwise looked mostly fine . Sharpness and detail weren't great, but at least the picture consistently looked fairly crisp. While some noticable edge enhancement intruded during several scenes, the film otherwise looked clean and clear, with no artifacting or print flaws. Colors looked warm and rich, with nice saturation and no smearing.
SOUND: The film is offered in Dolby Digital 5.1 (English dubbed and original Mandarin Chinese w/subtitles) and, not surprisingly, I'd recommend the original soundtrack, as the English dubbed edition is rather goofy at times. Otherwise, the film's sound design is just fine, with the surrounds kicking in various sound effects to enhance some of the action sequences. Otherwise, the rear speakers are only used minimally. Audio quality was fine, but nothing exceptional, with clear dialogue and effects, but not much punch.
EXTRAS: Promotional featurette and deleted scene.
Fans will also find a free online game for "Fearless" at: http://www.jetlisfearless.com/game
Final Thoughts: While it's dismaying that this is apparently Li's last martial arts effort, at least it's a very good one that provides an engaging and entertaining mix of action and drama. The DVD presentation offers satisfactory audio/video quality and a couple of minor extras. Recommended for martial arts fans.
The Film B+