Fist of Legend (1994)
Directed by Gordon Chan
The film follows Chen Zhen (陈真) (Jet Li) in his quest to bring to justice those responsible for the death of his master Huo Yuanjia (霍元甲).
The film opens with Chen Zhen attending class in Kyoto University in Japan. Some Japanese martial arts students swarm in and try to force Chen out because he is a Chinese. Mitsuko Yamada, one of Chen's female classmates who has a crush on him, along with Chen's professor and fellow students speak up for Chen. The thugs turn violent. Chen tackles and defeats them using a variety of controlled Chin Na techniques. The students' master Funakochi Fumio, who is also Mitsuko's uncle, arrives on the scene and apologises for his students' behavior, reminding them that violence never solves problems. Fumio is impressed with Chen's skill and has a conversation with him. Chen learns that his master Huo Yuanjia has been killed after a match with a Japanese martial artist. Chen is distraught upon hearing news of his master's death and leaves immediately for Shanghai. He bids Mitsuko farewell at the harbour.
Chen returns to Jingwu School in Shanghai. He sees that his master's son Huo Ting'en, who is also his childhood friend, has become the new master of the school. He is given a warm welcome by his fellow students and they mourn Huo Yuanjia's death together. The next day, Chen travels to the Dojo of Ryoichi Akutagawa, the Japanese martial artist who defeated his master. Chen demands to see Akutagawa and Akutagawa's students try to force him out but Chen defeats them. Akutagawa appears and honourably accepts Chen's challenge to a fight. Chen defeats Akutagawa easily and concludes that Akutagawa is not capable enough of defeating his master. He begins to suspect that there is something fishy behind his master's death.
Chen has his master's corpse exhumed for an autopsy against the wishes of Jingwu School. The autopsy report revealed that Huo Yuanjia was poisoned, which weakened him before the match with Akutagawa and eventually led to his death. Over the next few days, word of Chen's victory at Akutagawa's school spreads and Chen becomes a local celebrity in Shanghai. The students began to look up to Chen as their new master and asks him to instruct them. Huo Ting'en becomes jealous of Chen but remains silent about his unhappiness. He seeks comfort in a brothel and becomes romantically involved with a prostitute.
Meanwhile, Akutagawa confronts General Gō Fujita after realising that his unfair match with Huo Yuanjia was pre-meditated by Fujita. They have an argument over the code of Bushidō, in which Fujita states his stand that victory should be sought at any cost, even if it meant sacrificing one's honour. Fujita then kills Akutagawa and claims that Chen is responsible. Akutagawa's students are furious and they attack Jingwu School. The police arrives and stops the fight between the schools. Chen is placed on trial for the murder of Akutagawa. Several "witnesses" provide false and conflicting accounts of the murder while the court refuses to accept testimony from any Chinese defense witnesses on the grounds that they would be biased. Mitsuko arrives and claims that Chen is innocent as he spent the night with her. The court accepts her false testimony because she is a Japanese and Chen is exonerated. However, Chen's apparent relationship with Mitsuko ruins his reputation, as the Chinese view it as an act of treachery.
Huo Ting'en and the senior Jingwu members demand that Chen either leave Mitsuko or the school. Huo seizes the opportunity to vent his anger from jealousy and he challenges Chen to a match. Chen accepts the challenge and refrains from attacking by merely defending in the beginning of the match as he has no desire to hurt Huo. However, Huo's increasing aggressiveness forces him to retaliate and he defeats Huo eventually. Huo hands over his position of master of the school to Chen before leaving in shame. Chen refuses to accept it and says that he would not abandon Mitsuko as well. He leaves the school as well and Jingwu School is left without a master. The school eventually finds out about Huo's relationship with the prostitute and reprimand him.
Chen and Mitsuko are faced with hostility from the locals and are forced to seek shelter in an abandoned shrine near Huo Yuanjia's grave. Meanwhile, Fumio arrives from Japan, as requested by Fujita, to get rid of Chen. Fumio challenges Chen to a match which eventually turns out to be a draw as both sides fought honourably. Before his departure, Fumio warns Chen about Fujita's ill intentions and killing abilities. A few days later, Huo visits Chen to apologise for his earlier actions and attitude, telling him also that Jing Wu will accept his relationship with Mitsuko now. Huo informs Chen that Fujita has issued a challenge to Jingwu School, which they must accept to defend their school's reputation. Huo teaches Chen the Mizong Fist, which had originally been restricted to only members of the Huo family. Mitsuko leaves Chen after leaving behind a letter, which said that she will wait for him in Japan as long as there is peace and until he has finished what he has to do.
The next day, Chen and Huo Ting'en meet Fujita for the match. Fujita exposes a traitor from Jingwu School, who played a role in Huo Yuanjia's death, and kills him as an apology for pre-meditating Huo's death. Huo Ting'en fights Fujita, who appears to be incredibly strong and resilient by defeating Huo effortlessly. Fujita is about to deliver the killing blow when Chen stops him. Chen then takes over Huo and continues the fight with Fujita. Chen defeats Fujita after a long and exhausting fight and walks away with Huo. The enraged Fujita comes after them with a Katana and Chen tackles him after he injures Huo. Chen is forced to kill Fujita. After that, Japanese soldiers surround them and prepare to open fire.
The Japanese ambassador arrives and orders the soldiers to retreat. He agrees with Chen's actions as he is long aware that Fujita is psychologically ill. However, he warns them that the Japanese government will use Fujita's death as an excuse to start a war with China, unless the Chinese account for Fujita's death by executing the killer. Chen expresses his willingness to accept blame for Fujita's death and sacrifice himself to prevent a war, earning the ambassador's further admiration. Instead, the ambassador stages a fake execution and substitutes the dead Jingwu traitor's body for Chen's. Having faked his own death, Chen is forced to go into hiding. He leaves Shanghai for good and is never seen again.
Note: There are different endings depending on the various versions.
Jet Li as Chen Zhen - a talented student of Huo Yuanjia who fights to defend the honour of the Chinese
Fist Of Legend inspired the Wachowski brothers to hire choreographer Yuen Woo-ping for the fight scenes in The Matrix. The style of fighting in both films also bear some resemblance.
Jet Li's later films have also been influenced by Fist Of Legend. Hitman also has a scene involving him using a belt as a weapon as seen previously. The more realistic and less wire-driven fight choreography seen in Kiss of the Dragon was a result of fan criticism to Corey Yuen's choreography in Romeo Must Die and preference for the style seen in Fist Of Legend.
Huo Yuanjia's death is depicted in the film to be around pre-WWII circa 1937, but in reality his death was recorded to be around 1910. This, of course, is a pretty major inaccuracy and may have been made deliberately for the purpose of a more dramatic setting.
During some scenes, the Japanese troops are seen armed with Lee-Enfield rifles instead of Arisaka rifles.