Skip to main content

Motivations behind being ‘Fearless’

I recently ran across an interview with Ronny Yu, director of Jet Li’s upcoming martial-arts epic Fearless (a film based on the life of legendary martial arts master Huo Yuanjia that this blog has been following). Yu, best known in the U.S. for directing Hollywood horror films, talks about why he took on the film:
[Jet Li] met director Ronny Yu and as the pair spoke about the plight of China's young people, they felt now was the right time. Suicide is the leading cause of death among Chinese aged 15 to 34.

In the early 20th century, Yuanjia's story gave the Chinese strength; Li and Yu hope it will have the same effect in the 21st. . . .

"We looked into many of the reasons and they were silly reasons: 'My boyfriend broke up with me', 'I did not get good marks', 'My mother criticises me'.

"They want instant appreciation and reward, but life is not about that. So then they take the easy way out and think, 'I am going to die and make a statement so everybody around me will feel bad'.

"That is irresponsible. Jet and I also agree that because film is such a powerful medium, young people will take strength from the film. . . .”
Yu’s words gave me pause. It’s somewhat overwhelming to think that the instant gratification factor we’re all too familiar with in Western culture has such a devestating effect on China’s young adults. That suicide would be a response to that underlines all the more the hunger in our world for meaning and purpose.

Yu’s purpose in making the film—to bring hope to China’s young people—also highlights the shift in focus of martial arts films in the last several decades:

Yu is also hoping Fearless will herald a return to the Chinese martial-arts films of his youth

"When I was young growing up in Hong Kong I watched a lot of whushu (Chinese martial-arts) movies in the 1950s," he says.

"The actor was usually a whushu practitioner, who has trained from a traditional master and has a total understanding of it.

"Also, they were heavily morally themed, good versus bad, like a western. At the end the message is clear: always do the good things.

"But after Bruce Lee, all you see is kung fu and revenge. You open a movie with the hero's wife being killed, then he goes to a master and says, 'Train me in the art of kung fu'. The master asks why and he answers, 'For revenge'.

"The hero then gets his revenge and walks off into the sunset."
That’s a lot to put on a film. But if I was intrigued before, I’m more so now. As I’ve written before, when epic martial arts films are at their best they resonate on many levels: good versus evil, sacrifice versus fulfillment, forgiveness versus revenge, love versus fear—all themes that relate to faith and God-talk. The idea of exploring hope in a film like this is laudable. Hope—of redemption, new life, purpose and meaning—is a central theme of Scripture. A film that strives to capture that, even if it doesn’t parallel Scripture, is worth considering. At the very least, it gives us a chance to bring God-talk into open spaces. And, as Yu’s words testify, there’s a world out there that desperately needs to hear it.

(Image: Rogue Pictures)