HD DVD Title: Fearless
Rated: Not Rated (DVD side allows choice between R and NR)
Screen format: 1080p 2.40:1
Studio: Universal (Rogue Pictures)
First theatrical release: September 22, 2006
Previously released on DVD/BluRay: Rated and Unrated Widescreen DVDs day & date
Director: Ronny Yu
Starring: Jet Li, Nakamura Shidou, Sun Li, Dong Yong, Nathan Jones
Sound Formats: Mandarin and English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1
Length: 1 Hour 41 Minutes
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
Fearless depicts the life story of Huo Yuanjia (Li), a real Chinese wushu master credited with the creation of the JingWu Sports Federation and inspiration of Chinese national pride. Fearless is book-ended by Yuanjia’s final fight, an exhibition match against four foreign fighters held back to back on the same day. He handily defeats the first three, but before facing his final opponent the viewer is transported to scenes from Yuanjia’s youth, learning wushu despite his masterful fathers disapproval, defeating asthma through his training, and becoming more boastful and prideful in his skills and the techniques of his families style of wushu. Despite his overwhelming courage and and an undefeated streak of fighting, Yuanjia’s overwhelming pride causes him to lose everything, very nearly including his mind. Taken under the protective wing of a farming family, he learns to find his true path, to love again, and to think of his fellow man more than himself. Returning to the ring, he no longer fights for his own honor but to help his country out of the sickness it finds itself in, to strengthen mind, body and spirit together. Only his final opponent, Tanaka of Japan, stands in his way…
Fearless intermingles frenetic paced fight scenes into a story about a single man’s growth, starting with an almost childlike naiveté about the world and stretching into an icon for billions of people. Filmed with loving care, viewers are treated to a roller coaster between traditional wushu hand to hand fighting, weaponry bouts, and solemn contemplation of the more cerebral parts of life. In the end, it is a grand epic that manages to mix the two together without truly breaking out into greatness. Li has claimed that this is his last martial arts film, that showcasing the sport he loves with the life message he hopes to spread, his grand commitment to the world is now complete. Time will tell if he remains true to this feeling.
Sound Quality: 4/5
Fearless features a dynamic sound stage that centers most of the action in the front third but has no qualms against reaching into the far corners of the rears with effects when the on screen action calls for it. Bass presence is also felt quite literally during fight scenes and during the thunderous drumming that accompanies the pageantry of the fighting venues. While the soundtrack mirrors the slowdown action in the middle third as Yuanjia goes on his voyage of discovery, viewers know that the final showdown with Tanaka is still due. I barely noticed any music at all during the film, and looking over the box and IMDB, it’s hard to even find a composer credited. What was present was subdued at least outside of the fight music. I made the mistake of watching this film with the English track at one point, and do not recommend it. Not only is the English voice acting stilted and filled with nervous laughter from the actor in the Yuanjia role, but it actively messed up the sound balance for me. Watching with the original Mandarin with English subtitles restored a proper sound balance, and was a much more pleasing experience.
Visual Quality: 5/5
Fearless is gorgeously filmed, the closest I can compare it to is a cross between ‘Dances with Wolves’ and ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’. It has the former’s epic scope and color palate sensibilities and the latter’s dramatic flair and asian influence. This Hi-Def transfer leaves the viewer wanting nothing, it is easily in the top three best looking HD films in my now growing collection. Sharpness is second to none, there are zero print defects or scratches/pops, and grain cannot be found anywhere. There are no artifacts or edge enhancement that I could detect anywhere at all. This is simply a beautiful looking film wonderfully captured in the digital realm.
Extra Features: 2.5/5
There are exactly three extra features on this disk, and one of them is the theatrical trailer and another is a single deleted scene. Not a good sign. However, making up for this fact is that the deleted scene is simply breathtakingly captured and truly makes an improvement to the story itself had it been included. Viewers can choose for themselves whether they agree with its removal or not (leaving it in certainly would have detracted fromYuanjia’s final life lesson while fighting Tanaka), but I would personally have included it. The final extra is titled ‘A Fearless Journey’ and allows Li, Director Wu and Stunt Coordinator master Yuen Wo Ping describe how they brought this story to life and why Li considers himself done with martial arts movies.
Overall: 3.5/5 (not an average)
Jet Li’s Fearless updates the traditional martial arts film with an American epic feel, adding Hollywood style wirework, extraordinary wide screen scope, and mixed weaponry fighting that is furious and never derivative. Adding to this is the fact that it’s based in truth and about one of Li’s personal heros (and someone whose story is important to a whole continent). Also add in a brilliant transfer, a solid effects track and a sprinkle of extras, and Fearless has a lot going for it. If for no other reason, it is the flawless transfer of this beautifully filmed movie that demands at least one viewing, as HD is unlikely to get much better looking any time soon.