Fist of Hero

Reviewed by: 12_reviewer

April 05, 2008

Rating: three-point-five

Zhong Hua Da Zhang Fu (Fist of Hero)

Produced by China Entertainment Group and starring Zhao Wen Zhuo, Fennie Yuen, and a host of rather good unknowns.

My apologies for only being able to provide the names of two actors - I watched this series about eight months ago.

Zhao plays Rong Haishan, a young scamp growing up in Shanghai in the early twentieth century. Of course, the show's about his quest to become a great martial arts exponent - that's the only basis for giving this non-actor work in the first place.

The scion of the prominent Rong family, Haishan falls for a very pretty Japanese girl - Yokoyama Sakura / Yingzi, whose dad is a similarly influential figure in Japan. Their marriage has unexpectedly nasty repercussions as the private alliance stirs up nationalistic fervour in both the Sino-Japanese martial arts worlds and puts the Rong family in particular, in a very uncomfortable position. Rong Baichuan, ( Hai's loudmouth , stick-in-the-mud of a dad ), is the acknowledged leader of the Sino faction. His rival is Lightning Blades, the fourth top exponent in Shanghai - naturally, an unscrupulous green-eyed monster who tries to discredit Rong by making a capital issue of the alliance between the two families.

On the Japanese side, Yokoyama Jubei also has an enemy, the Hell Demon, plotting his downfall. Yokoyama is played by a fantastic actor (unfortunately I don't know his name) whose dignified performance is reason enough to tune in. Yokoyama and Rong are mutually antagonistic initially but soon form a close bond in the face of mutual danger. Their relationship is the most interesting, well-portrayed, and the only one with chemistry and is the reason that the show is better than average. There's a very funny bit where their bonding sees them perched atop the roof, slightly inebriated and singing the theme song. It's also the best exploration of the Sino-Japanese theme - other attempts, like Yingzi's difficulties with her new family, only slow the pace down, besides establishing the Rongs as annoying prigs.

Haishan's twin, Mingzhu, is the serious, dependable and capable foil to his scamp. Li Bao Feng is given her fair share of screen time, including some fight scenes. The most convincing scenes were those when Mingzhu had to take on the Chinese martial arts exponents on her father's behalf - she really looked like she knew her stuff. On the romantic front she is saddled with some tiresome nonsense about being jinxed in love proceeding to a limp romance with her brother's buddy, Shi Ji. The obstacle of choice involves Shi Ji saving her life and becoming disfigured in the process, pretending to die and having his identity revealed again. In the process, the writers find chances to introduce some half-assed digressions like a mystical doctor and the obstacle mentioned above. One wishes her love interest had been Yokoyama's disciple Onizuka, initially an uptight warrior who slowly loses his self-defeating rigidity and matures into a less insular mindset. The (unknown) actor delivers a refreshingly understated performance despite his minor role. It would also have been a more interesting and thematically consistent slant than the clammy yearning of the poor boy for rich young missy angle. Heck, Mingzhu also had chemistry with Yokoyama - now that would have made for a really interesting relationship! ?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the show degenerated towards the end. Haishan's quest to master the mysterious and "profound" Taijiquan was unoriginal and dull. There was never any doubt that bumps like the abduction of his twin sons or his inability to guess the riddle of the skill would be flattened out by the relentless Steamroller of Logical Denouement. It's no coincidence either that Zhao was almost exclusively centre stage when the show declined.

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