Sunday, May 06, 2007

Dear Charlie:

So. Jet Li's Fearless.

I admire Jet Li. I admire his movies. I admire his professionalism. His dedication to his art. His belief is his art.

Don't get me wrong. He's not the only martial artist/film maker that I admire. Bruce Lee. Jackie Chan. Ken Watanabi. Donnie Yen. Tony Leung Chiu Wai. Andy Lau. Takeshi Kaneshiro. Stephen Chow. I could go on, but I won't. You get the idea.

But a Jet Li movie? Sign me up. I don't even need to know what it's about. Unleashed. The One. Once Upon a Time in China. Fist of Legend.

Even Cradle 2 the Grave, in which he played a boy named Su. What, you think I watched it for the other guy?

But Fearless. Jet Li's last martial arts epic -- though he'll still act, thank everything good. I had to watch it. I wanted to watch it in the theater, but circumstances prevented that. That is my only regret in this film.

I should've seen it on the Big Screen.

Huo Yuanjia did not start his life as a hero. In fact, he's a bit of a jerk. Prideful. Obsessed. Wrong-headed about such concepts as honor and discipline and friendship and loyalty. He knows them, but he doesn't understand them.

And yet, the first scenes of the movie show him fighting with honor, with discipline, smiling with friendship, loyal to his country. How'd that happen? I mean, you go from this confident warrior in the beginning...to the past, to this asthmatic child whose martial arts master father won't allow him to fight...to this headstrong, cocky youth who has cured his asthma with wushu but gained a head about the size of China...to this obsessed-to-be-the-best young man who doesn't understand that there won't always be someone to fight and that there must be a life behind the martial arts to make the martial arts make sense, to give them place.

This is about the point where the life he has ignored takes over. Announces itself with a vengeance. Deals more damage than his own fists could ever inflict.

I think the reason this flick speaks so loudly is because the tragedy destroys him. He allows it to swallow him whole, to eat his identity, to leave him hollow and empty and useless. Then, friendship saves him. Loyalty gives him back a purpose. Peace -- the lack of any need to fight -- shows him what he should have been fighting for in the first place.

In losing himself, he gained everything his mother and father tried to teach him. Yes, he learns humility, but it doesn't weaken him. It doesn't stop his fighting. It gives his fighting purpose. It lends him perspective, objectivity, and a terrible, sad dignity.

When he returns to his old life, he sees it for the shambles it was. He discovers his true friends and remembers what they were to him before he ruined himself. He makes peace with the mistakes of his past, acknowledges them, swallows them, and gets past them to the life he missed.

And this is where the beginning finds him. This is where his confidence and loyalty during those first three competitions came from. And this is where the fourth fight comes in.

The fourth fight is with the Japanese fighter, Tanaka. The fourth fight is the end of the movie for many reasons, but mostly because it shows everything Huo Yuanjia has learned about himself and his art and his country. It shows his honor -- the honor he has earned both by himself and with his competitor. Tanaka is imminently honorable. Huo Yuanjia is imminently honorable.

That fourth fight is a treat. Not because it's astounding --although it is, and for many reason -- but because it is honor in motion. Two men at the peak of their game show the entire world what honor truly means. Yes, they would beat each other nigh to death if they could, but they would respect each other as they did so. Respect each other's skill and dedication. Admire each other even in loss.

It is that respect, that honor, that ends the movie, no matter what happens to the fighters themselves. No matter who wins or loses. No matter what worldly events hinge on the contest itself.

Respect. Honor. What else is there?

And then I watched the featurette on Jet Li himself, and it only made the movie that much more poignant. Not because it's his last, though that does put a somewhat melancholy spin on it, but because it mirrors his own beliefs, what he's learned throughout his own formidible training and dedication to his art. Watching him talk about how he wanted to make this movie to show what wushu is truly about -- mind, body, and spirit insead of violence, peace instead of killing -- all I could do was nod.

See, he worries that people have the wrong idea about the martial arts because of some of the movies made with them. A martial artist knows that violence is not the goal. Control...that's the goal. That's the key. Form, function, movement. Strength. Discipline. Honor.

These concepts are why I love the martial arts. Why I love martial arts movies. Why I'm so fascinated with Japanese and Chinese culture and art, etc. These concepts aren't foreign to my native land, of course, but...but dedication to them sometimes is. I want that. I want that purpose, that meaning.

One of these days, if I search hard enough, if I dedicate myself to it...maybe I'll find it, too.

And if anyone tells you I was this serious for this long, I'll deny it and delete this post. Heh.

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