Another brutiful Chinese wushu epic, though there's more brute than beaut in this ideologically-laden bash-fest.
"From the people who brought you Hero..." trailed the trailer. But it's not from director Zhang Zimou, rather the more anonymous collective that brought us the highly suspect "one nation" ideology behind Hero, and much of China's output in this genre.
Still, it's vaguely interesting to see Westerners represented with the kind of xenophobic disdain with which we have ourselves treated foreign cultures over the years. (Does O'Brien really represent what the Chinese think of the Americans?)
Li plays Huo Yuanjia, founder of the Chin Woo Sports Federation, "now with branches in over 50 countries around the world" we are told at the end, a piece of information I experienced with a little shudder of western insecurity. This version of his biography has been highly fictionalised, but Yuanjia did die after taking on 10 members of the Japanese judo team and then accepting his opponents' medicine for his tuberculosis.
Rather like Ben Hur, Yuanjia's individual heroics in this story ultimately serve to demonstrate the insignificance of selfish individualism. And other than an ability to defeat all-comers in face-to-face combat, he is noticeably lacking in appealing qualities. Yet the film is often exhilarating, even if no match in terms of visual elegance for Zhang Zimou's martial arts output.
Jet Li says this will be his final martial arts epic, but he will continue to work in other genres (one suspects more likely to be those involving a mounting body count than romantic comedy).