This afternoon I saw the best film I’ve seen in a long time – and yes, that includes the Toronto International Film Festival: Jet Li’s Fearless.
I’ve been a Jet Li fan since I first (belatedly) saw him in 1998 or so in Once Upon a Time in China and America at the Cleveland Cinematheque. I loved him in Hero and Unleashed, and in the greatest librarian film of all time, Black Mask. I’ve also enjoyed the recent trend of martial artsy films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and House of Flying Daggers. But I think Fearless is the masterpiece. Crouching Tiger and Flying Daggers attempted to combine martial arts action with epic, romance, and tragedy, but Fearless pulls it off. Drawing on sources ranging from King Lear to Chaplin’s City Lights, Fearless delivers all the action you could want in the first half, without succumbing to the temptation to let the fight scenes drag on too long. They are quick, thrilling, beautiful, and brutal. Then everything changes. I won’t pretend that the film isn’t predictable: it is, after all, a genre film. But it’s one of those rare genre films that really fulfills the possibilities of the genre. At some points I was clutching the arm of my chair during the fight scenes, but at other moments I was close to tears. I love this film!