After the new wave of traditional kung fu films came to an
end, Yen turned to the high-pressure world of Hong Kong television to
develop his directing skills. He starred in and directed the action for two
top-rated shows, “Kung Fu Master” and “Fist of Fury.” The former follows the
story of a righteous martial artist, Hung Hei Kwun, during the subjugation
of the Han people during the late Qing dynasty. The latter was inspired by
Bruce Lee's 1971 classic “The Chinese Connection” (directed by Lo Wei),
which is set in 1930s Shanghai in the international concession during the
Japanese occupation. Others had taken on the Bruce Lee role of Chen Zhen,
including Jet Li, in Corey Yuen's “Fist of Legend.” Now it was Yen's turn.
His 30 episode series for Hong Kong's ATV allowed him the time to flesh out
a back story for featured characters and narrate events leading up to those
depicted in the earlier movie. He also quoted all the scenes and images
audiences knew well from Lee's original, such as Chen Zhen, dressed in a
white suit, mourning at his master's grave, or the hero taking on the
Japanese dojo, encircled by Japanese fighters. He not only experimented with
different styles of action but with camerawork, editing, soundtrack and
chroma key effects, suggesting an epic sweep for these characters' lives.
Romance, intrigue, and drama became key elements in Yen's storytelling. And
it is Yen, not Jet Li, that Asian audiences call 'Chen Zhen' when they see
him on the streets.
Deemed ATV’s most successful action series, “Fury” is Yen’s homage to his
real-life hero Bruce Lee. It recreates the classic scenes from the original,
and more astonishingly, captures its spirit. The fight scenes are amazing.
Yen begins by drawing from traditional martial arts style action - linear
blocking and movement with all the moves seen - as in the series’ opening
sequence in which the Chinese martial art schoolmasters are gathered
together to discuss their situation. However, as Chen Zhen develops his
martial arts skills, the action becomes more and more daring and
experimental. In an innovative fight with a villain played by Hung Yan Yan,
for example, Yen draws inspiration from “Dragon Ball” and “Natural Born
Killers.” Another outstanding and inventive scene takes place during the
Japanese dojo fight in which Chen Zhen returns the signboard delivered by
the Japanese to his school (the signboard is an insult, describing the
Chinese as ‘the sick men of Asia’). In this version of the story, the
Japanese are supported by the crime boss’ son, who delivers the sign to the
Ching Wu Academy.
Yen knew he had to include this classic sequence from Bruce
Lee’s “Chinese Connection” and in doing so, he shot the fight from an aerial
view - a top shot - just as Lee had. A shirtless Chen Zhen stands out,
encircled by the Japanese fighters and taking on all comers. However, Yen
improvised the scene using not only his own team, but numerous enthusiastic
extras who were instructed only to come in at him with all they had. Thus,
through a combination of camera, energy, music, and Yen’s martial arts
abilities, the sequence is daring and immediate, again demonstrating Yen’s
ability to improvise with kung fu despite the rigid forms training of
classical Chinese martial arts. In another amazing scene, Chen Zhen takes on
a Japanese swordsman, himself using nunchakus in free flow movements,
showing the genius of Yen’s action choreography. Also taken from Lee’s movie
is the dramatic graveside scene in which Chen Zhen mourns his master. Yen’s
scene occurs in the pouring rain as Chen Zhen falls to the grave and claws
in anguish at the unearthed clay. It’s a gut-wrenching, emotional moment.
While the fight sequences are inventive and exhilarating, for those who want
drama and romance, this is the place to find them. This series features
Donnie Yen at his best.