霍元甲

Directed by Ronny Yu, 霍元甲 (Huo Yuan Jia), aka Fearless, is a semi-autobiographical account of the life of the man who is recognised as the founder of 精武門 (this link also contains another account of Huo’s life), a martial arts institution that has since spread over the world. Yu mentioned in an interview that filming went so well that this would have been the last time he works with Jet Li. Li has actually decided that this would be his final martial arts film. I’m not entirely sure if he never intends to make a film again (I don’t believe he has ever done a non-martial arts film), but after decades of entertaining fans and film-goers with his skills, I don’t blame him for deciding that this is probably enough, and that it might be better to spend the rest of his life to what he feels is more important to him. Before he quit, he wanted to make a film that represents what he felt to be the true spirit of martial arts. IMHO, the basic message is achieved, but I wonder if certain decisions taken by the production team may have prevented the making of a better biopic.

Taken simply as a stand-alone film, 霍元甲 really is something to reflect on. The story of its protagonist’s self-destruction followed by enlightenment is very much concerned with the idea that ‘what matters is not that one conquers others, but that one conquer oneself’ (it’s a philosophy I predominantly associate with Buddhism, but skimming that article has not given me anything to work from…*sighs* I have to get back to reading about the various religions (and philosophies)…). It’s not so much that one should strive to the best of one’s ability (well, for some, this might be the most important aspect) but rather that one must overcome one’s faults, be that greed, sloth, envy (etc), a lack of confidence in one’s abilities or, as in the film, pride. To be honest, I prefer to see Buddhism as a philosophy rather than a religion because, to me, its teachings reflect the way life should be lived. The message of this film is a lesson I have to implement for myself.

I can’t really remember much about the direction (not that I know how one is meant to look at a director’s work) but I did have some thoughts on the acting. Jet Li has never been the best of actors, although I have always enjoyed his comedies. Here, he is required to make us believe in a man’s life journey, a journey from arrogance and improper pride to respectful humility, and yes, I can believe it. However, the scene where he speaks to the Japanese martial artist, Tanaka, in a private meeting prior to their fight, his smile and slight bobbing of the head remind me too much of his ‘cheekier’ roles such as in Fong Sai-Yuk. Yes, it’s my problem. As were the English translations that sometimes bordered on being cringe-worthy.

Unfortunately, it is also alleged that Huo’s family was not even informed about the film directly. Because it is based on real events, the discrepancy between truth and fiction with regard to Huo’s life actually weakens the film. It may have been more dramatic for the protagonist to have lost his entire life before finding his path again, but in that case, it would have been better if they’d created a fictional character. I know that there are many biopics which stretch the truth (Elizabeth and Shakespeare in Love being two examples I’ve seen – although, at least in the latter case, there were fewer verified facts to work with), but inventing a supposedly ‘real-life’ story in order to make such an important point has produced something which seems too contrived in some ways. 霍元甲 should be seen, but I hope audiences are astute and curious enough to go beyond the film.

At the time of viewing, we were happy that the film was under two hours, for we were slightly pressed for time that day. However, I’ve read that 40-50 minutes were cut from an ‘original 150 minute version’. I can’t say I was really dissatisfied with the film (outside of the problems I found afterwards, which will not be any different no matter how long the film is), but I would like to see that original. After having to wait about two years to see 英雄 (which I like more, but that’s another story), I’m very glad I had the chance to see this film whilst in Singapore for CNY. I’ll be anticipating the DVD release, if only in the hope that I’ll be able to see the original cut.

About karice
MAG fan, amateur translator and political scientist-in-training. I also love musicals, travel and figure skating!

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