Fist of Legend (; literally "Hero of Jingwu") is a 1994 Hong Kong martial arts action film starring martial artist Jet Li. It was directed by Gordon Chan and features action choreography by Yuen Woo-ping. It is a remake of the 1972 film Fist of Fury, which starred Bruce Lee as the lead character. The film is set in Shanghai International Settlement in 1937 during the Second Sino-Japanese War as the city is occupied by Japanese forces.
Chen Zhen is attending class in Kyoto University when some Japanese karate students burst in and attempt to force him out because he is Chinese. Mitsuko Yamada, one of Chen's female classmates who has a crush on him, along with Chen's professor and other students, speak up for him. The thugs turn violent but Chen tackles and defeats them using a variety of controlled Chin Na techniques. The karate students' sensei, Funakochi Fumio, who is also Mitsuko's uncle, arrives and apologises for his students' behavior. Fumio is impressed by Chen's skill and converses with him, and Chen learns that his sifu Huo Yuanjia has died after losing in a match against a Japanese martial artist. Chen is distraught after hearing the bad news and he leaves for Shanghai immediately.
Chen returns to Jingwu School and sees that his sifu's son, Huo Ting'en, has become the new master of the school. The next day, Chen goes to a dojo and demands to see Ryoichi Akutagawa, the Japanese fighter who defeated Huo Yuanjia. Akutagawa's students attempt to force Chen out with violence, but Chen defeats them. Akutagawa arrives on the scene and honourably accepts Chen's challenge to a fight. Chen defeats Akutagawa easily and concludes that Akutagawa is not capable of defeating his sifu, after which he suspects that there is something wrong about Huo Yuanjia's death. Chen has Huo's corpse exhumed for an autopsy against the wishes of Huo Ting'en and Jingwu's members. The coroner revealed that Huo Yuanjia was poisoned and weakened before his match against Akutagawa and that caused his death. Over the next few days, word of Chen's victory against Akutagawa spreads and Chen becomes a local celebrity in Shanghai. Jingwu's students begin to look up to Chen as their new instructor and that incurs the jealousy of Huo Ting'en. Huo remains silent and seeks comfort in a brothel, where he becomes romantically involved with a prostitute.
Meanwhile, Akutagawa confronts General Gō Fujita after realising that his unfair match with Huo Yuanjia was pre-meditated by Fujita. After a heated argument, Fujita kills Akutagawa brutally in front of the shocked Japanese ambassador and pushes the blame to Chen Zhen. Akutagawa's students are furious and they attack Jingwu School, culminating in a fight, that is eventually stopped by the police. Chen is arrested and placed on trial for allegedly murdering Akutagawa. Several "witnesses" provide false and conflicting accounts of the murder, but the court refuses to accept testimony from any Chinese defense witnesses on the grounds that they will be biased towards Chen. Mitsuko arrives and lies that Chen is innocent because he spent the night with her and the court accepts her false testimony because she is a Japanese, and Chen is exonerated. However, Chen's apparent relationship with Mitsuko ruins his reputation, as the Chinese view it as an act of treachery. Huo Ting'en and the senior Jingwu members demand that Chen either leaves Mitsuko or the school, and Huo uses the opportunity to settle his personal vendetta against Chen, by challenging Chen to a fight. Chen defeats Huo eventually, with much reluctance and leaves with Mitsuko. Huo Ting'en is humiliated by his defeat and gives up his position as master of Jingwu before leaving to join his prostitute lover. Jingwu's members eventually discover Huo Ting'en's relationship with the prostitute and reprimand him. Huo learns his lesson and returns to Jingwu.
Chen and Mitsuko faces hostility from the locals and are forced to seek shelter in an abandoned hut near Huo Yuanjia's grave. At the same time, Fumio arrives from Japan, as requested by Fujita, to get rid of Chen. Fumio engages Chen in a fair martial arts contest, which turns out to be a draw. Fumio leaves after warning Chen about Fujita's ill intentions and killing abilities. Days later, Huo Ting'en visits Chen and apologises for his earlier behavior, saying that Jingwu School will accept Chen and Mitsuko's relationship now. Huo teaches Chen the Mizong Fist that night while Mitsuko leaves secretly, leaving behind a message for Chen that she will wait for him in Japan.
The next day, Chen and Huo Ting'en confront Fujita at his dojo, where Fujita exposes a traitor from Jingwu, who played a role in Huo Yuanjia's death, and shoots him as an apology for pre-meditating Huo's death. Huo Ting'en then fights Fujita, who appears to be incredibly strong and resilient, and Huo suffers grave injuries. Chen takes over Huo and engages Fujita in a long and exhausting fight, eventually emerging victorious. Just as they are about to leave, the enraged Fujita comes after them with a katana and Chen is forced to kill Fujita. They are surrounded by armed Japanese soldiers, who prepare to open fire. Just then, the Japanese ambassador arrives and orders the soldiers to retreat. He agrees with Chen's actions as he has been aware that Fujita is a madman, but also warns them that the Japanese government will use Fujita's death as an excuse to start a war with China, unless the Chinese can account for Fujita's death by executing the murderer. Chen expresses his willingness to accept the blame for Fujita's death in order to prevent war, earning the ambassador's further admiration. Instead of ordering Chen's death, the ambassador stages a fake execution and substitutes the dead Jingwu's traitor's body for Chen's, while Chen escapes and leaves Shanghai secretly for good.
later films have also been influenced by Fist of Legend. Hitman also has a scene involving him using a belt as a weapon as seen previously. The more realistic and less wire-driven fight choreography seen in Kiss of the Dragon was a result of fan criticism to Corey Yuen's choreography in Romeo Must Die and preference for the style seen in Fist of Legend.
Though Fist of Legend is widely considered one of Li's best films, its HK $14,785,382 box office gross was considered a disappointment. By comparison, Li's Fong Sai-yuk grossed over HK $30 million, and Fong Sai-yuk II grossed HK $23 million.
On February 15, 2000, Miramax issued a DVD of this film in the U.S. (later in the U.K. too by Hollywood Pictures on VHS first, then DVD later on March 29, 2002). Whilst it contained better visual quality than any other release (some agree even to this day), it immediately caused an uproar with the Hong Kong Cinema fan community because it contained only a new English dub/score with alterations to the original dialogue and no original Cantonese option - a process many of their Hong Kong-acquired titles suffered (not to mention the edits).
Compared to the Hong Kong version, the 106 minute Mandarin-dubbed Taiwanese version contains the following footage:
In the Mandarin soundtracks of the film, there is background music when Chen fights Huo. However, in the Cantonese soundtrack, the music only plays after Chen performs a Capoeira-style kick later on in the fight.
The Hong Kong version in return, has the following footage:
Both Hong Kong and Taiwanese version have slightly different end credits.
DVD releases have inevitably appeared over the years for one of the genre's best-loved films. Each one had a particular merit, but until recently, none of them were favourable to English-speakers because they lacked an option of having the correct Cantonese version with English subtitles. Having any other version than the Cantonese soundtrack would not depict the language barrier highlighted between the characters, as everyone would be dubbed into the one language.
In 1997, the first DVD was released by Ritek in Taiwan, which fans later reported to be an "uncut" version. This has been a wide-misconception - whilst this version does carry some more footage (as a Taiwanese version), it is in turn missing a few moments that the Hong Kong version has.
On March 20, 2002, the first official DVD of the Hong Kong version with a Cantonese soundtrack was issued by HKVideo in France. However, it contained no English subtitles. One notable difference to other versions carrying a Chinese/Taiwanese version is that it doesn't contain the ending text describing the aftermath of Jingwu School, but is otherwise the same and bar a few missing frames, uncut.
A lesser-known DVD was issued on March 25, 2005 by Japanese distributor Maxam which contains the Hong Kong version (and its ending text) in complete form, but no English subtitles.
After years of speculation and waiting, a new R1 2-DVD "Ultimate Edition" was finally released on September 9, 2008 from The Weinstein Company's Dragon Dynasty label in America, which features many extras and most importantly, the original Cantonese soundtrack with English subtitles - the latter specification marks the first official DVD release to do so.
However, this is still considered the previous US version with the Cantonese soundtrack edited to fit its visuals. Matters are worsened when the subtitles revert to dubtitles towards the end - relying on the previous incorrectly transcribed "Sick Men Of Asia" sign and story-changing ending (see above) from Miramax's English dub.
German-issued DVDs from distributor 'New Age 21' (released November 12, 2008) and 'HMH' (released November 20, 2008) were released in an uncut state and contain a Cantonese soundtrack with English subtitles.
Other uncut English-subtitled releases of the Hong Kong Cantonese-language versions (now OOP) include the US 'Tai Seng' VHS (released October 20, 2000), the Australian 'Chinatown Video' VHS, the U.K. 'Made In Hong Kong' VHS (released October 1, 1999), the Mei Ah VCD, VHS and LD.
The Malaysian 'Speedy' VCD also contains a similar version, but enforces cuts to some scenes for violence:
The Spanish 'Manga Films' DVD entitled "El Mejor Luchador" (released October 24, 2001) and a slightly edited Indian 'Diskovery' VCD entitled "The Hitter: Fist Of The Legend" contain an English-dubbed version intended for export to English-speaking territories. Strangely, this version has aired occasionally on US TV with a Miramax ident, instead of their own produced version.