LEGEND OF THE FIST is a hell of a title to live up to. Fists have done some pretty legendary things over history: Punching. Fisting. Fist-punching. Face-fisting. Fists have come in a wide array of legendary flavors: Jet Li. Bruce Lee. Sandra Bernhard. So the question Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen has to answer is this: Does star Donnie Yen deserve to be counted among such fisty legends?
Legend is the big-screen sequel to a 1995 TV show remake of Bruce Lee's Fist of Fury, with Yen as Chen Zhen, a World War I hero who returns from Europe to a Shanghai that's on the verge of being swallowed by a grumpy Japanese army. After a 10-minute prelude of fucking stunning kinetic violence, Legend becomes a straight-up comic book: Yen is a spy for the Chinese resistance, posing as a nightclub-managing gangster, who by night assumes the identity of the Masked Avenger, a proto-Kato who thwarts political assassination attempts.
This superheroism calls down the vengeance of a Japanese general, who's also the son of the man Yen killed in the TV show. His network of spies includes the astoundingly hot Shu Qi as Kiki, an undercover Japanese general pretending to be a gangster's moll who, of course, falls in love with Yen. There's mountains of cornpone intrigue and adventure, a 1920s Chinese version of The Dirty Dozen, and honest-to-god swashbuckling. I mean it. Swashes. Buckled like a motherfucker.
It ends, as these stories often do, with our hero taking on hundreds of men while sweaty and shirtless. Yen, yelping like his lungs are boiling over, commences to splashing a dojo full of dummies with facefulls of fist. When he broke out the nunchucks, I could not stop laughing—not mockingly, though, or in derision. It was the kind of laughter that escapes your body when words are no longer useful in conveying pure joy. Joy, by the way, looks like men transformed into meatsacks via merciless asswhipping. Yen's legendary status? Solidified.