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Jet Li’s “Fearless,” opening today and based on a true story, is a film about finding yourself. Jet Li’s character, Han Yaunjia, has one goal in life: to be the best fighter. And throughout the first half of the movie you will wonder if there is anything more to his character. You might even wonder if the first half of the movie will work its way to a solid payoff. Hang in there–it will.

The movie starts with Han Yaunjia easily handling three fighters, then flashes back to his childhood, where his need to fight and go undefeated started. The story jumps roughly 25 years into the future, and we see Han Yaunjia, already a master, fighting any and all challengers who are eager to defeat him.

Although some of the effects at times seem weak, the fast-paced martial arts will leave you oohing and ahhing. The fight choreography was done with precision, and two fights stand out in particular.

The first sets up the general arch of the movie, where we see Li’s character fall from his own personal pedestal. In a battle to the death with Master Chin, we watch two men fight, not for personal amusement–as with many of the fights in this film–but for survival. Even though Han Yaunjia survives, his family pays the price in the vendetta. It is the brutal murder of his family that breaks him and changes the person he is.

In truth, though, his family was already a distant thought in his mind. He does not see his daughter or take care of his mother or home. He threw his family to the side for his own personal pride and glory.

What we watch in the second half of the movie is his rebirth. Moved by the compassion of those who find him drifting, he starts a new life. We watch as he changes from who he was to who he becomes.

With his newfound set of values, Han Yaunjia loses the will to fight for the pleasure of winning. He learns from all his past mistakes and works to amend for all his sins. And he works to become a teacher to his disciples.

The movie does not disappoint those who come for a good martial-arts fight. Han Yaunjia may have changed his personality, but he remains a fighter until the end, even if his attitude toward fighting has changed. At this point, he fights not for himself but for all of China and the East.

The final battle is the second memorable fight. Done with grace and class, it shows the beauty of martial arts, with its flowing kicks and some very nice camera work. With a single punch, we watch the culminations of the transformation Li’s character has undergone and see the honor that a fight can convey.

— Posted by David Wittlin

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