Fearless was supposed to be Jet Li`s last martial arts movie and the story that was to be told, as well as the crew behind the camera suggested the result would be something extraordinary. As for today, it is questionable, whether this really is Jet Li`s last movie in this genre. Peter Chans The Warlords shows the actor, who is in his forties now, with a sword in his hand one more time and the joint project with Jackie Chan doesn`t do without the action that made them famous, either. Nevertheless, the question whether Fearless could have been the movie to honorably end his outstanding martial arts career remains.
The Theatrical Cut cannot deliver on that promise because the complex story about the history of martial arts is hard to follow and the character development is implausible. This is largely due to the incoherent cut. However, the Theatrical Cut, which is about 40 minutes shorter than the Director`s Cut and was created in order to appeal to a more mainstream audience,is a fun and fast paced action movie but it doesn`t do justice to the story of Huo Yuanjia.
The Director`s Cut finally fills all the gaps and shows a fascinating portrait of a great man. Having said that, the writers sometimes used their artistic freedom to change historic facts but never stray too far from the truth.
Despite this, the ending of the Director`s Cut is too long and the middle part overly sentimental. If a director devotes more time to the death of an ox than to the painful death of Yuanjia`s daughter, he doesn`t necessarily stray too far from the truth but definitely too far from the main plot. Another example is the background story with Michelle Yeoh, which doesn`t really add anything to the plot.
Anyway, Fearless is a well-shot martial arts epic, which is almost as good as Jet Li`s masterpiece Once upon a time in China and his acting is even better.
It has to be mentioned that this review compares the Director`s Cut with the original Theatrical Cut from Hong Kong and not with the International Cut, since the Director`s Cut is based on the Hongkongnese version. In the International Cut, many scenes are slightly different from the original. Most of the time, these changes were made to improve the relatively sloppy cut of the story sequences in the original. If one has to decide between those two versions, the International Cut is the better choice. In addition to the International Cut, an alternative Thai Cut exists.
The beginning of the movie is different in each version. The Theatrical Cut first shows a montage of Yuanjia`s training and then three fights from the major tournament. The Director`s Cut shows the complete tournament at the end of the movie. Instead the Director`s Cut begins with the introduction of Michelle Yeoh, who would like to see Wushu as a sport in the next Olympic Games.
Miss Yang (Michelle Yeoh) shows the Olympic Committee a presentation about Wushu and wants to convince the critical audience to add Wushu to the Olympic disciplines. For this purpose she explains the idea behind the sport, which is "to avoid conflicts". Then she talks about how this ideology originated 100 years ago and the man who invented it.
We see Yuanjia on board of a ship with many other people who are penned up in a cargo area like animals. He looks absent-minded and one can see sorrow on his face. The Boatsman wants to remove him from the ship because Yuanjia apparently doesn`t have any money but then the boatsman notices that Yuanjia has a jade pendant and takes it without any resistance from Yuanjia. Then he leaves. Yuanjia stays behind and thinks of his daughter, who, as we will find out later, has been murdered, with tears in his eyes.
Then the movie goes back in time a couple of years and shows how Yuanjia`s father watched him train when he was a child. Here the diverging plotlines from the two different cuts match again.
3 minutes, 14 seconds in total
The pan shot to janitor Laifu, on whose shoulders the young Yuanjia is standing, begins earlier.
The young Yuanjia watches his father Huo Engdi train. Here, the cuts are really different. The Director`s Cut is a couple of scenes longer. Furthermore, some of the scenes that are included in both versions are shown at a different speed.
in total 21 seconds longer
Yuanjia`s friend Jinsun practises writing a little longer during Yuanjia`s training.
Jinsun puts away his brush in a hurry.
2 seconds longer
The pages of the book are being put away longer as well.
The two run home. There, Yuanjia proudly shows his friend his father`s collection of "Declarations of Life and Death", which he gets from his opponents after each fight in order to protect him from legal proceedings in case one of his oppononents dies during a tournament.
Jinsun isn`t really impressed because Yuanjin`s father has not yet become a big name in Tjanjin. However, the next day after his next fight that`s supposed to change.
When the two children of the fighters are arguing before the fight whose school is better, the child of the opponent says at the end of the conversation, "My dad will let your dad have a taste of Zhao's blow."
After Huo`s defeat, Jinsun looks for his friend and eventually finds him cowering at a wall.
Instead, the Theatrical Cut contains a scene in which the victorious Zhaho leaves the stage in an amicable way.
After his own defeat, Yuanjia asks his friend Jinsun to help him prevent future defeats. Yuanjia gets the training notes from his father while Jinsun is keeping cave. Then Jinsun is supposed to copy the books and hide them because Yuanjia is afraid that his father would beat him up if he caught him with the copies. Both sneak out of the library but suddenly janitor Laifu appears and brings them to Yuanjia`s father. Yuanjia has to kneel down in front of his father and expects to be birched because he has caused trouble and didn`t study eagerly. Then his mother intervenes and convinces his father not to punish him. Yuanjia`s father sends him to his room, although he thinks Yuanjia`s mother is too lenient.
A bit later, when Yuanjia is copying a few verses as an alternative punishment, the Theatrical Cut shows in a couple of shots how he enters the room. This sequence is a little shorter in the Director`s Cut, since we also see how Jinsun, nervous and sweating, squats on the floor and copies the training notes. pictures only from the Director's Cut
- 1 second
After his mother has left, Yuanjia walks over to Jinsun and asks him in an annoyed voice when he would be done copying the notes.
In the training session, Yuanjia hits the stone again...
After the training Yuanjia gets another chance to fight the son of his father`s previous opponent against whom he had lost so shamefully.
Yuanjia has even prepared the same documents as his father in case one of them dies and the two young boys sign those.
The other boy is so confident of victory that he runs toward Yuanjia without hesitation, but is stopped by Yuanjia with a low kick against his shin and then thrown to the ground by a blow to his stomach. Yuanjia already considers himself the winner but Zhao`s son tries to attack him from behind one more time. However, Yuanjia lands two more punches and after those Zhao`s son has to give up. Yuanjia runs home happily with the paper that confirms his victory. Then the movie skips time many years into the future.
After Yuanjia has won the fight, the Director`s Cut shows the audience and the Theatrical Cut shows Yuanjia a bit longer.
Director's Cut is 0,5 seconds longer
At the end, the audience is shown longer again. One can even notice the disciples of the master, whom Yuanjia will fight later, in the audience. In the Theatrical Cut these people are show at the end of the short fights.
Musicians are in Jinsun`s restaurants at the beginning.
The two men that suddenly appear in front of Yuanjia and want to become his disciples run up the stairs in one additional shot.
They party together a little longer. Moreover, Yuanjia`s daughter is sitting on the stairs earlier.
The scene, where she is led into the house, is longer.
In the first of the short fights, the opponents are circling each other longer after the first attacks.
While Yuanjia is fighting against a group of opponents, he kicks one aside and hits two others.
He steps onto the back of another.
In the Director`s Cut, after all his opponents are defeated, Jinsun is shown among the cheering crowd. In the Theatrical Cut, the disciples of the master are shown. In the Director`s Cut those are shown after the last fight on the scaffolding.
no time difference
At the end of the scene Jinsun is also shown in the Theatrical Cut.
- 3 seconds
Before Yuanjia goes to the restaurant with his followers in order to celebrate, His wife and daughter are shown at the dinner table waiting for him, but they start eating without him.
In a conversation after the fight Jinsun tells Yuanjia to think about a break (from celebrating).
A bit later in the conversation.
Jinsun leaves the room longer.
After he has met master Chen on the street Yuanjia is relatively angry. He sists in the training gym, while his disciples practise several excerises in a less that skilled way.
Then Yuanjia stands up and lectures them that only hard work leads to perfection and that perfection needs time and determination. While he is walking through his lined up disciples he punches and kicks them. He stops in front of a wooden pillar and hits it so hard with his bare fist that a piece of wood splinters off.
When Yuanjia holds his dead daughter in his hand, a close up of her bloody hand and blood-staint shoes is added.
After Yuanjia has left the ship he wanders erraticly through the country without any money and self-esteem.A girl from a passing family throws down an apple to him but Yuanjia almost shows no response.
In the river, Yuanjia is under water longer.
While he is hallucinating, he sees his daughter longer
Before he comes to surface of the water, he sees his wife and daughter waving at him while drowning.
Moon looks after Yuanjia, who is still haunted by nightmares and in pain. In the beginning he has to be fed soup to make him eat anything at all. After some time he starts eating alone and at some point he is even able to eat solid food again.
There is also a scene about village life, which, in the Theatrical Cut, starts a couple of seconds later.
122 seconds longer
Moon comes back into the house, in which Yuanjia is slowly recovering.
Here, the Theatrical Cut shows a scene from the village that was shown in the Director`s Cut earlier
After that, the conversation between Moon and Yuanjia is cut differently in each version.The Theatrical Cut is longer.
- 5,5 seconds
Moon cuts Yuanjia`s hair longer.
Huang, the ox, is old and ill. Gui, whose heart is close to the ox, is worried. His grandmother tries to comfort him by saying that the animals has done so much in his life and that it`s now time for him to rest. Yuanjia, who is in bed already, listens to the conversation but pretends to not have heard anything. But one can see that he is not as unsympathetic as before.
The Theatrical Cut shows Yuania in the house, before he leaves for the village alone for the first time.
Yuanjia sees Moon play the the flute
Yuanjia,who is called Ox because he looks as tired as Huang, is guided through the village by the children.
One morning, Yuanjia wakes up and notices that Huang is not there. He leaves the house and sees him in a field of rice. He walks over to him and tries to drag him out there but the ox doesn`t follow his will.
Then his grandmother and daughter arrive. The grandmother takes the leash and says to Huang that he doesn`t have to come to work today and instead should rest. She tries to drag him out of the field and succeeds and both go home. Yuanjia and Moon stay behind and Moon tries to explain to Yuanjia that Huang is used to work and now, as he is about to die, tries to do his duty.
Later, the grandmother gives everybody a bowl of rice for dinner. The Theatrical Cut only contains one close up of her face.
The Director`s Cut is about 31,5 seconds longer.
Instead, the Theatrical Cut contains a short scene where the three eat.
- 2 seconds
In the spring after, Huang has already died. Gui cries and is comforted by Moon and her grandmother.
Before the men arrive at the village, the scene where rice is planted is longer.
Instead,the Theatrical Cut contains a shot where all peasants are in the rice field and their wives walk over a bridge.
- 6 seconds
The men on the rice field are told that Gui was caught in a neighboring village when he wanted to steal an ox and that he is about to be punished for that. This scene, slightly changed, is also included in the Thai version. However, in that version the scene does not support the plot and was only included because it shows a famous actor from Thailand.
Gui is tied up and has already been birched by several children when the men from his village arrive. The village elder asks the chieftan to show mercy because he is convinced that the boy has understood that what he did was wrong. But the man wants the punishment to be executed, since it`s a tradition in is village not to show mercy.
After some discussion, Yuanjia offers to be punished instead of Gui.
The problem is that birching is a punishment for children and so Yuanjia would have to get beaten up by an adult and the punishment would only count if he managed to stand as long as an insence stick burns. Yuanjia agrees and the chieftan immediately starts to beat him up and Yuanjia has to go down a couple of times. His friends are shocked and want to help him. The situation is about to escalate but Yuanjia stops his friends and is now willing to defend himself by dodging the blows but he still doesn`t hit back but eventually he almost manages to throw his opponent down to the ground and only Yuanjia`s foot protects the head of his opponent from hitting a stone on the ground.
At that moment the incense stick stops burning. Both fighters take a bow in front of each other and the village starts to cheer for them.
Even though most of the scene is said to be identical to the Thai Cut - I couldn`t check that because I don`t own that version - the ending is said to be different. Instead of ending the fight after the insence stick has stopped burning, the man is said to attack Yuanjia again from behind and is then killed by Yuanjia as a response. This scene, which is not reality, is missing from the Director`s Cut.
Due to that, the scene is about 20 seconds shorter in the Director`s Cut.
In the following scene, Yuanjia and Moon are shown with several children playing in a meadow. Gui wants Moon to ask Yuanjia to teach him how to fight. When Yuanjia asks him for the reason he replies he wants to be able to protect himself from all the bullying he has to face. The boy next to him wants the same but he only wants it to be feared by other boys. Therefore, Yuanjia asks the two what would happen if the two had an argument and how they would solve that and he explains to them that this is way more important to know than how to fight.
7:29 minutes in total
Yuanjia and Moon cook together. This scene is longer in the Director`s Cut.
The shot where the peasants run home is longer.
Yuanjia works longer. He carries more wood, straw and corn. His grandmother is watching him work and Moon hears him.
5 seconds from this scene is show a bit later in the Theatrical Cut.
The scene, where Yuanjia leaves the house while Moon is folding clothes, is longer.
After leaving the village and reaching the foot of the mountain, Yuanjia looks back to the village, where Moon is alone at home.
A short time before he sees Moon one more time, Yuanjia runs away.
This scene is followed by the war footage that was shown in the Theatrical Cut at the beginning.However, these scenes are longer in the Theatrical Cut.
- 13 seconds
In the Theatrical Cut Yuanjia runs through town longer.
- 7,5 seconds
- 7,5 seconds
After Yuanjia has visited the grave of his wife and daughter he sits in the guest house of his former friend Jinsun and waits for him.
But Jinsun doesn`t want to see him and sends an employee with the copied training notes from their childhood to Yuanjia.
Yuanjia takes the notes with a melancholic gestures and goes to Mss. Chin, whose husband has been killed. Jinsun watches him leave.
Yuanjia walks through the backyard of Mss. Chin longer.
The shot in which a girl takes a bow is closer and longer.
Then he meets two students from his school, who work as bouncers, on the street. When they notice him, they run to him, kneel down and ask him for forgiveness for the way they have chosen.
After that Yuanjia gives a former opponent of him, who know is a butcher some money for 1 kilo of pork.
Yuanjia leaves his stall but leaves him his training notes.
The Theatrical is 0,5 seconds longer, when Yuanjia enters the room of Jinsun in the mansion.
- 0,5 seconds
In the Director`s Cut the end of that scene is longer.
After that, the meal Yuanjia and Jinsun have together is cut differently and is also a lot longer in the Director`s Cut.
Yuanjia tells him about white people who consider themselves superior to the Chinese people. Yuanjia wants to change that and bring back pride to his people.
A short time later the two are shown in an arena and Yuanjia tells Jinsun about his plan to turn the art of fighting into a sport.
The first athletes arrive at the martial arts school.
Before the Japanese tea ceremony, the flowers are shown longer.
After the tea ceremony,the Theatrical Cut immediately shows the arena, whereas the Director`s Cut shows the training sequence that was shown at the beginning of the Theatrical Cut.
This training sequence is longer in the Director`s Cut.
As mentioned before the first three fights of the tournament are shown at the beginning of the Theatrical Cut. In the Director`s Cut, these fights are at the end. Here the differences between those two sequences are listed. These differences are minor and most of the time only occure to improve coherence.
We begin with a shot that follows the introduction of the inside of the arena.
The Theatrical Cut shows Yuanjia at the very beginning.
- 5 seconds
Instead, the Director`s Cut shows the female drummers longer.
Yuanjia and a different audience is shown.
Two shots that show Yuanjia and the drummers are only shown after a short shot of the Japanese.
no time difference
In both versions, Yuanjia nods to somebody from the audience. Only the Director`s Cut reveals that this person is Mss. Chin.
The short conversation between the two Japanese is shown at the end of the movie in both version. Shortly before he enters the ring and not before Yuanjia`s first fight.
no time difference
Now, the transition between the two parts of the competition follows.
At the beginning of the movie, the Theatrical Cut shows, at the end of the third fight, a Japanese man who looks at Yuanjia with an evil expression on his face. Here, the Japanese guy wears the bloody sports wear from a later fight. This mistake does not exist in the International Theatrical Cut.
At the end of the movie, the Theatrical Cut shows the drumming girls.
The Director`s Cut here shows how Yuanjia, with a smile on his face, gives back the sword to his opponent.
After that, both versions follow the same timeline, except the conversation between the Japanese.
The Theatrical Cut,Yuanjia wipes sweat off his face. A moment later, he drinks some tea. In addition, the Theatrical Cut contains a shot of the promoter.
The Theatrical Cut is 3 seconds longer
The last shots before the two enter the ring are also different.
Different shots of the Japanese, the Europeans and the drummers.
no time difference
During the credits, after "A Ronny Yu movie", the Director`s Cut returns to the present, where miss Yang is asked by reporters whether she believes that Wushu could become part of the Olympic games. She answers that she will give her best. Then the reporter asks whether that would be enough. Yang hesitates for a second, smiles and walks away.