Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen (2010)
Chen Zhen is a fictional character who first came to life in Bruce Lee’s Fist of Fury (1972). Fist of Legend (1994) was a remake of that film directed by Yuen Woo-Ping with Jet Li playing Chen Zhen. No one compares to Bruce Lee. Nevertheless, Fist of Legend is one of Li’s best films. In Li’s remake, Chen Zhen’s death was faked. This opened the door for Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen where Yen steps into the role of Chen Zhen. Chen morphs into a vigilante superhero fighting off those pesky foreign devils. He dons the mask, chauffeur’s cap, and black attire of Kato, the role Lee played in the Batman TV series spinoff, The Green Hornet (1966-67). Surprisingly again, it works quite well.
Set in Shanghai during the Japanese occupation, Yen stars alongside another veteran Hong Kong thespian, Anthony Wong (the Infernal Affairs trilogy) and the forever gorgeous Shu Qi (The Assassin). Always one to adapt and incorporate new styles, Yen deploys a lot of Parkour moves to spice up the action. Of course this is wirework driven, which ultimately defeats the point of parkour, but the influence is clear. Yen also pays loyal homage to Fist of Fury with a dojo fight, which precisely poaches some of Lee’s choreography in his classic “We are not sick men” melee. Nevertheless, this film brings a fresh perspective on a time-honored classic.
Kung Fu Jungle (2014) aka Kung Fu Killer
Yen plays Hahou Mo, a Kung Fu master and former police martial arts instructor serving time for involuntary manslaughter. He is temporarily released to help catch a serial killer who is targeting Kung Fu masters. The killer is Fung Yu-Sau, played by another Asian megastar, Wang Baoqiang, best known for his blockbuster comedy Detective Chinatown trilogy. In real life, Wang learned Kung Fu from childhood at the village near Shaolin Temple. Another Shaolin graduate, Shi Yanneng, plays one of Fung’s victims, Master Tam. Shi was a genuine Shaolin monk prior to leaving the monastery to become a movie star. Wang versus Shi is a surreal battle atop a giant skeleton sculpture.
Set in modern Hong Kong, Kung Fu Jungle has a gritty police procedural tone as Mo assists Inspector Luk (Charlie Young) track down Fung. Then it explodes into these spectacular Kung Fu duels as Fung duels to the death with a succession of Kung Fu masters as Mo closes in, hot on his tail. Yen delivers an emotional performance, delving much deeper into the character than expected as he ponders the true meaning of Kung Fu, honor, and revenge.
Sakra is a dream project for Yen, who directed, produced, and stars in the film. It’s an adaptation of Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils, a bestselling novel by Louis Cha, the undisputed master of Wuxia (Wuxia literally means ‘martial knight’ and it refers to the genre of Chinese martial arts fiction).
Sakra marks the return of Kara Wai to Wuxia films. Wai is a Kung Fu diva from the Golden Age of Kung Fu films at Shaw Brothers Studios and has appeared in nearly 200 films. As a child, she lived in a poor Hong Kong ghetto, selling wares on the street. After she took Kung Fu lessons from Yen’s mom, Grandmaster Bow-Sim Mark, she got roles as an extra, and appeared in over 20 films in the first three years of her career.