Donnie Yen is one of my favourite martial arts stars; he was a memorable villain in Once Upon a Time in China 2 squaring off against Jet Li, as well as staring in one of the best modern kung fu movies, Iron Monkey. Yen is a Bruce Lee fan, his credits include a TV version of Lee’s Fist of Fury, and this films title is a reference to Lee’s first starring vehicle, The Big Boss (I’ve no idea if the title was Yen’s choice though).
Yen gives us his best Lee imitation as Fung, a guy who returns to his village and the woman he loves with no memory of where he’s been for the past seven years. He’s got the poses and the noises down pat and he’s no slouch in the moves department either. It’s not Yen the star but Yen the director who lets the film down.
For his directorial debut Donnie must have wanted to show what he could do, unfortunately he shows us a little too much. The film is over stylised, from slow motion to filters to skewed camera angels, Yen bombards the viewer with everything he has. The fight scenes are also a little too fast and frenetic, speed isn’t everything – onscreen fights aren’t just about how fast you move but how good you look doing it. All too often the camera gets a little to close to the action and you’re left wondering why Yen the director is focusing on Yen the actors head when what’s happening with his extremities is far more interesting.
For all these complaints this is still a fun film but Donnie’s behind the camera talents are best employed as action director rather than having full creative control.