Chen Zhen (Jet Li) is a Chinese student enrolled in college in the Japanese city of Kyoto in the 1930s. When he hears that his sifu died during a martial arts challenge from a Japanese dojo, Chen travels to Shanghai (at this time in history, occupied by Japan) to find the truth. There he uncovers a conspiracy, and he gets into a lot of kung fu fights.
The plot is thin, partly because Fist of Legend is a loose remake of Bruce Lee's most popular Chinese film, Fist of Fury (known in the US as The Chinese Connection). But where Fist of Fury was virulently anti-Japanese, Fist of Legend is about tolerance and justice. They've even given Chen a Japanese girlfriend (Shinobu Nakayama, also seen in Gamera, Guardian of the Universe), though like many of Jet Li's onscreen romances, it's never consummated with so much as a kiss. Only one of the Japanese characters onscreen is actually evil, and he gets his comeuppance.
This movie is a victory for martial arts director Yuen Woo-Ping, who designs some unforgettable fight scenes. Unlike most of his solo-directed efforts, he keeps the wire works here hidden, so they enhance but don't dominate the fights. The final fight in particular is probably the zenith of Yuen's art.
Dimension's disc of Fist of Legend looks fantastic, especially compared to any given import tape or disc from Hong Kong. The colors are bright, and the disc looks like it might have a bias towards the red end of the spectrum.
The sound has been totally redone for this dubbed version. In general the sound effects are more realistic and sound fuller than the ones on my imported VHS tape of the film. The dubbing is good, and well-synched to the Chinese character's mouth movements. (The Japanese characters aren't so lucky. Maybe there's a reason all those Godzilla movies look like that.) As Jet Li rarely dubs his own voice even in HK films, and the Japanese characters go from speaking Japanese to Chinese and back from scene to scene, the original HK version was practically as dubbed as Dimension's version.
Dimension's version is uncut, and the dubbed dialogue preserves the gist if not the details of the original dialogue. (Of course, I can only go by the English subtitles on the import tape, so Dimension's dubbed dialogue may well be closer to the original.) There are a couple of voiceovers added, mainly to explain plot points. Purists will probably be upset that the new dialogue indicates that the General's sign reads "Jing Wu Closed," as opposed to "Sick Men of Asia."
Unless you count English subtitles for the hearing impaired, there aren't any.
Scott Hamilton, 4/17/00