Blu Ray Title: Jet Li’s Fearless – Director’s cut
Disk Release Date: 12/09/08
Rated: Theatrical Cut PG-13, Director’s cut Not Rated
Screen format: AVC Encoded 1080P Widescreen 2.40:1 High Definition
First theatrical release: September 22, 2006
Previous releases on disk: HDDVD and Anamorphic Widescreen DVDs January 2007
Director: Ronny Yu
Starring: Jet Li, Nakamura Shidou, Sun Li, Dong Yong, Nathan Jones
Sound Formats: Mandarin DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is the only choice in the Director’s cut, The Unrated and Theatrical Cuts add dubbed English and French DTS 5.1 tracks
Length: Director’s cut 2 hours 21 minutes, Unrated cut 1 hour 44 Minutes, Theatrical cut 1 hour 41 minutes
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
Note that this review borrows liberally from my review of the previous HD DVD release.
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. The Theatrical cut of 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. While the Director’s cut modifies this bookending it replaces it with a segment which gives a bigger spotlight to the effects of Yuanjia’s accomplishment and the national sport he founded.
Despite his overwhelming courage 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. As of this writing it is debatable whether his involvement in the Mummy franchise has kept that promise intact, look for that review later this week with some commentary on that aspect.
During this review I had a chance to watch the Director’s Cut which was not on the previous HDDVD and which adds over a half hour of new material, along with an ‘Unrated’ cut which comes out only 3 minutes longer than the theatrical version. This cut is a bit more detailed but does so to the detriment of pacing. I like both versions equally well but those who are looking for Yu’s definitive version should expect a lengthy and somewhat slow haul.
Sound Quality: 3.5/5
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.
As noted above, the Director’s cut only has a Mandarin language track so English speakers will need to make use of subtitles to follow along. When reviewing the HDDVD I made the mistake of watching this film with the English track at one point, and did not recommend it. I have not gone back and compared English in this version as I recommend the Director’s cut anyway, but I suspect it is the same quality with stilted English voice acting and filled with nervous laughter from the actor in the Yuanjia role.
Visual Quality: 4/5
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 BluRay’s Hi-Def transfer did not seem as crisp to me as I recall the HD DVD being, however I have not directly compared the two. Sharpness in particular seemed a bit lower, however there are still zero print defects or scratches/pops, and grain cannot be found anywhere. There are no artifacts and I did not notice any edge enhancement. The colors and the action make this a simply beautiful looking film, and while I was a little disappointed in the overall sharpness it is still filled with some great visual moments.
Extra Features: 1/5
It’s a bad sign when features are removed from a previous release, and the Fearless HDDVD had none worth writing home about to begin with, having exactly three extra features. One of them was the theatrical trailer and another was a single deleted scene. For this BD those two have been excised and we are left with the final extra, titled ‘A Fearless Journey’ which allows Li, Director Yu and Stunt Coordinator master Yuen Wo Ping to describe how they brought this story to life and why Li considers himself done with martial arts movies.
I suspect the deleted scene is the difference between the Theatrical and Unrated versions, however even if that is true this is a truly sad state to see a ‘Director’s Cut’ BD reduced to!
Overall: 3/5 (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 heroes (and someone whose story is important to a whole continent). Also add in a pretty decent transfer, a solid effects track and take a few points off for the lake of extras, and Fearless seems like a solid rental recommendation or a purchase for those who are Li fans. For those looking for reason to upgrade from the HD DVD, the biggest ammunition is the inclusion of 30 minutes of new footage and all 3 possible cuts on one BD-50 Disk and menu selectable using seamless branching.