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A view on Blu-ray and DVD video by Leonard Norwitz

Fearless (The Director's Cut) [Blu-ray]

(aka "Jet Li's Fearless" or "Huo Yuan Jia")


(Ronny Yu, 2006)



Review by Leonard Norwitz



Theatrical: Rogue Pictures

Blu-ray: Universal Studios Home Entertainment



Region: All

Chapters: 21

Size: 50 GB

Case: Standard Amaray Blu-ray case

Release date: December 9th, 2008



Aspect ratio: 2.40:1

Resolution: 1080p

Video codec: VC-1



Mandarin DTS HD Master Audio 5.1; Dub: English & French DTS 5.1 (Unrated & Theatrical Versions only)



English SDH, English, Spanish & French



• A Fearless Journey in SD (16:06)

• My Scenes



The Film:

Three complete cuts of the film on one disc! The Director's Cut being released on North American home video for the first time (though available from other sources for some while now.)

In what was announced as Jet Li's final martial arts movie, Fearless was produced in 2006 and directed by Ronny Yu (not by Jet Li, as the American title might lead one to believe.)

Jet Li, at 43, was hardly over the hill when he made this movie, but he had slowed down and was no longer quite capable of the dynamic action he was once famous for (vide: Fist of Legend.) But, even though this story is about the man who would go on to found the Jingwu Sports Federation, I didn’t find it all that necessary for the actor to be all that he once was. There is a second act where his character retires to the country after descending to the depths of his misery and vowing to fight no more. I expected him to be not at par when he finally reentered the ring, so his liability became, for me, a credit.

The director, Ronny Yu, had set his mark in such delights as The Bride with White Hair before striking out on a path to obscurity that would lead to Freddie vs. Jason. In Fearless he has recovered himself nicely with production values that recreate the tone and ambiance of colonial China and the thinly disguised animosity to the British presence. He also allows Jet Li’s Huo Yuan Jia to find depths of despair to contrast with his earlier bravado that set him up for his fall. Li’s performance had me completely absorbed and transcended stereotype. It’s clichéd, perhaps, but in the director’s cut we can respond the substance as well as the intention. The fight sequences staged by Yuen Wu Ping, now a household name, even to Westeners, with his work on a range of movies from Iron Monkey,
Fist of Legend, The Matrix, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, and Kill Bill, are inventive and stylish.

The Movie: 7
The American title, Jet Li’s Fearless, clearly indicates how the distributor’s bread is buttered. The Chinese title, Huo Yuan Jia, would have been sufficient as it is a familiar name in their history, especially as concerns the discipline and sport of wushu in the early part of the 20th century. In this version of his biography, more a fable than a biopic, he is the son of a martial arts instructor who shields Yuan Jia from fighting because of his frail health. Vowing to never let anyone humiliate him, Huo nevertheless develops into a man vain, ruthless, headstrong and rich. Beset by adoring followers he is also an easy target for jealousies, one of which leads him to his downfall in a night of bloody vengeance. Huo flees the city and eventually finds redemption in a life of rural simplicity.



Image: 6/8
The first number indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-ray video discs on a ten-point scale. The second number places this image along the full range of DVD and Blu-ray discs.

Comparison to the Edko R3 DVD Director’s Cut reveals that the Hong Kong product, although very good for standard definition, has boosted levels and contrast, whilst the Blu-ray has a longer and more filmlike greyscale. That said, the Blu-ray is still soft and grainy compared to other recent Chinese Blu-rays such as Exiled or The Warriors. There is a tendency to saturation that affects shadow information. The disc jacket indicates dual layered, but the bit rates are only modest, mostly in the 20s.





SD-DVD image (cropped from above scene) - CLICK TO ENLARGE



Blu-ray image (cropped from above scene) - CLICK TO ENLARGE















Audio & Music: 7/7
Again, compared to the Edko DVD, there is a marked improvement in the audio mix with the bump to DTS HD-MA. The audio is punchier where required, with deeper, more meaningful bass, crisper dialogue and other ambient sounds, of which there is much in this nostalgic film.


Operations: 8
The menu is laid out like other Universal Blu-rays. In this case, due to the lack of special features, there is no U-Control. But there is the ability to switch easily between cuts of the film from the main menu of each version. Subtitles are white, smallish and unobtrusive though within the widescreen film frame.




Extras: 3
In the single bonus feature, A Fearless Journey, we learn two things: that Jet Li will fight no more - at least not in classic wushu films - and that wushu is not about trouncing the other guy or revenge, but in mastering oneself. It is a discipline that makes one ready for combat should the need arise. The question, as Nathan Lee in his NY Times review
HERE points out, is not whether Hou can beat everyone to a pulp, but whether he can do so with proper discipline and honor.


Bottom line: 7
While not possessing a demo quality image nor a Jet Li as nimble as he once was, the story is moving, especially (make that: only) if watched in the director’s cut. A good upgrade to the Edko’s R3 DVD.

Leonard Norwitz
November 30th, 2008



About the Reviewer: I first noticed that some movies were actually "films" back around 1960 when I saw Seven Samurai (in the then popular truncated version), La Strada and The Third Man for the first time. American classics were a later and happy discovery.

My earliest teacher in Aesthetics was Alexander Sesonske, who encouraged the comparison of unlike objects. He opened my mind to the study of art in a broader sense, rather than of technique or the gratification of instantaneous events. My take on video, or audio for that matter – about which I feel more competent – is not particularly technical. Rather it is aesthetic, perceptual, psychological and strongly influenced by temporal considerations in much the same way as music. I hope you will find my musings entertaining and informative, fun, interactive and very much a work in progress.

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