Fearless (2006 film)

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This article is about the movie. For other uses, see Fearless (disambiguation).
Fearless film.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Traditional 霍元甲
Simplified 霍元甲
Mandarin Huò Yuánjiǎ
Cantonese Fok3 Jyun4-gaap3
Directed by Ronny Yu
Produced by
Written by
  • Chris Chow
  • Christine To
  • Wang Bin
  • Li Feng
Music by Shigeru Umebayashi
  • Poon Hang-sang
  • Ray Wong
Edited by
  • Virginia Katz
  • Richard Learoyd
Distributed by Edko Films (Hong Kong)
China Film Group (China)
UIP (Europe)
Rogue Pictures (US)
Release dates
  • 26 January 2006 (2006-01-26)
Running time
105 minutes
Language Mandarin[2]
Box office US$68.1 million

Fearless, also known as Huo Yuanjia (霍元甲) in Chinese, and as Jet Li's Fearless in the United Kingdom and in the United States, is a 2006 Chinese-Hong Kong martial arts film directed by Ronny Yu and starring Jet Li. It is loosely based on the life of Huo Yuanjia, a Chinese martial artist who challenged foreign fighters in highly publicised events, restoring pride and nationalism to China at a time when Western imperialism and Japanese manipulation were eroding the country in the final years of the Qing Dynasty before the birth of the Republic of China. Li stated in an interview that this film is his last wushu martial arts epic, a point also made in the film's television promotions and other publicity.[citation needed]

Fearless was released on 26 January 2006 in Hong Kong, on 23 June 2006 in the United Kingdom, and on 22 September 2006 in the United States.[3]


The film starts with Huo Yuanjia fighting three Westerners: a British boxer, a Belgian lancer, and a Spanish fencer. Huo defeats all three of them and has a flashback before the next fight with a Japanese fighter Anno Tanaka.

Huo Yuanjia watches his father Huo Endi teaching students martial arts and wants to participate, but his father is concerned about his asthma and refuses to allow him to practice martial arts. Yuanjia then sees his father in a leitai match with another martial artist named Zhao, who won the fight dishonourably by retaliating when Endi held back what would have been a fatal blow. Humiliated by his father's defeat, Yuanjia vows to regain the Huo family's honour and pride. He practices martial arts secretly behind his father's back. As the years pass, Yuanjia defeats several opponents in leitai matches and becomes one of the most famous martial artists in Tianjin. However, as he becomes increasingly successful and popular, he also becomes more arrogant and ruthless towards his opponents. His late father, however, advocated the practice of showing mercy and not doing any serious physical harm to opponents.

When a rival martial arts master named Qin Lei injures one of his followers, Huo feels insulted and confronts Qin at the latter's birthday party. The confrontation escalates into a fight between Huo and Qin, in which Huo emerges as the victor by killing Qin with a fatal blow to the chest. However, Qin's godson seeks vengeance and kills Huo's mother and daughter in retaliation. Guided by fury, Huo goes to Qin's house, where Qin's godson admits to the murders before killing himself. Later, Huo learns that it was his follower who had insulted and provoked Qin earlier, which prompted his beating.

Overwhelmed with grief and shame, Huo flees Tianjin and wanders aimlessly for many months. A disheveled, greying wanderer, he nearly drowns in a river, but is saved by Granny Sun and her blind granddaughter Yueci. They bring him back to their village and Huo, guided by their simple acts of kindness, begins to learn the value of compassion and mercy.

In 1907, Huo returns to Tianjin and sees the changes that have taken place in his absence. He apologises to the family of Qin and reconciles with his childhood best friend, the businessman Nong Jinsun, whom he had offended earlier. He challenges the American wrestler, Hercules O'Brien, who had been making headlines by defeating Chinese martial artists and calling the Chinese "weak men of the East". During their match, Huo saves O'Brien from being impaled on some nails on the side of the ring (which had become exposed during the fight) and he wins the appreciation of O'Brien, who names Huo the victor. Huo's fame begins to spread with successive challenges with other foreign fighters. In 1909, with funding from Jinsun, he founds Chin Woo Athletic Association in Shanghai.

The members of the foreign chamber of commerce fear that Huo's victories might fan anti-foreign sentiments among the Chinese people and thus become a disadvantage to them. They propose a match between Huo and four foreign champions. Huo takes up the challenge, even though he will have to fight four bouts in a row. Before the matches, Huo meets the Japanese champion Tanaka for tea and strikes up a friendship with him.

On 14 September 1910, Huo - after quickly defeating European challengers - faces Tanaka in a titanic battle. In the first round, they fight with their weapons of choice. Huo uses a sanjiegun while Tanaka uses a katana. In the heat of the fight, they accidentally exchange weapons. However, Huo was able to handle the katana proficiently, while Tanaka fumbled with the sanjiegun. Huo honorably offers to exchange weapons with Tanaka, and the first round ends in a draw. Before the next round, Huo unknowingly drinks tea poisoned by the members of the foreign chamber of commerce, who wish to assure their victory. In the second round involving unarmed combat, Huo suddenly has difficulty breathing and begins to lose his strength. He collapses and starts coughing-up blood, the result of arsenic poisoning. Tanaka and Huo's supporters immediately demand that the match be halted and postponed, but Huo replies that he wishes to continue, since he is going to die in any event. Huo is dominated by Tanaka but he does manage to deliver a blow to Tanaka's chest, similar to the one he used on Qin, but this time holds back what might have been a killing blow. He then collapses. Tanaka, aware of what happened, declares Huo the victor as Huo dies.

The final scene shows Huo's spirit practising Wushu on the field as Yueci observes him with a tearful smile. Huo turns to her and smiles in return lovingly, indicating a lovers' reconciliation.



Alternate versions[edit]

The film was originally approximately 140 minutes long, but to fit market demand, it was cut to 105 minutes, and scenes by Michelle Yeoh and a fight between Jet Li and a Thai boxer, portrayed by Somluck Kamsing, were removed. A special release of the film in Thailand in March 2006 reinserted the scenes with Somluck (but not Michelle Yeoh), making its new running time approximately 110 minutes. In January 2007, Ronny Yu's original 140-minute director's cut was given an official DVD release in Hong Kong, featuring the full Michelle Yeoh subplot as well as the fight with Somluck Kamsing.

Within the Somluck Kamsing scene, there are two different endings. In the director's cut, the fight ends after Huo Yuanjia stops the Thai boxer from falling head first. In an alternate scene, the Thai boxer continues to fight after this and Huo appears to kill him with the exterminating blow, only to see that he had resisted, in which the boxer realises this and ends the fight.

Director's cut[edit]

Universal released the full 140-minute director's cut on DVD in North America in July 2008.[4] The released DVD, however, contained 2 discs and has been reported to errantly contain both the existing US theatrical version and the existing unrated version and not the actual director's cut on either of the discs. However, many people were able to get replacement copies that had the director's cut after sending a complaint on their website.

On December 2008, Universal released the Blu-ray version of the film, which contains the three versions (Theatrical, Unrated, and Director's Cut) in a single disc.

There are many differences between the theatrical and director's cut.

  • Instead of the film opening with the fighting competition in Shanghai, 1910, the film opens with Ms. Yang (Michelle Yeoh) explaining to International Olympic Committee why wushu should be an Olympic sport. She then proceeds to tell the story of Huo Yuanjia, the man who helped wushu become a major sport.
  • Before we see Huo as a child, a scene of him is shown seeking passage on a boat, with the boatman taking a small jade jewel out of a sack as payment from Huo (shown later to be the gift that Huo's daughter intended to give him when he wins his fight). This will also later be shown to be a scene of Huo wandering in despair.
  • Before Huo and his friend, Nong Jinsun, as children, go to see Huo's father fight, there is a scene of Huo showing Nong his father's certificates from winning fights.
  • There are scenes of Nong, as a child, copying the Huo family's wushu manual for Huo Yuanjia so he can learn.
  • A scene was added of Huo Yuanjia, as a child, getting his revenge and defeating the son of master Zhao.
  • After Huo's minor confrontation in the streets with Qin Lei, a scene is added of Huo beating his disciples for not working hard enough.
  • An extra scene of Huo's family, waiting for him to come home after his competition.
  • The montage of Huo wandering in despair is longer, as well as his time with the villagers.
  • A scene was added of a young boy from the village, Gui, getting beaten by members of another neighbouring village, for stealing an ox (after his died). The villagers of Huo's village protest to let him go, and when the man of the other village refuses, Huo offers to take Gui's punishment instead. He has to let a Thai boxer beat him until an incense stick burns out. Huo allows the Thai boxer to beat him until members of his village protest. Huo defends himself from the Thai boxer, but does not fight back. When the Thai boxer is about to hit his head on the ground, Huo saves him, and the Thai boxer bows in respect, and agrees to let Gui and the other villagers go.
  • In his time with the villagers, Huo has a talk with two village boys about wushu, and makes them explain why they want to learn it.
  • When Huo returns home, the black-and-white footage of battle shown at the beginning of the theatrical version is now shown right before Huo's return to Tianjin, with subtitles explaining that after the Qing Dynasty, foreign armies invaded China, and made Tianjin a semi-colony. Also added was a scene of Huo giving master Zhao, whom he defeated earlier in the beginning of the film, his copy of the Huo family's wushu manual. He later comes to Jingwu school and joins.
  • After the main credits, Ms. Yang is walking away from the meeting, with a reporter asking her if she thinks she will succeed. She responds saying that she had done her best, and that is what is important. When the reporter asks, "Is it enough?", she smiles and walks away.
  • Various scenes in the film are now given their time and place in subtitles. Also subtitled are the names of the three fighters Huo fights with before Tanaka in Shanghai, as well as their fighting styles.

Other names[edit]

  • Some promotions, including television and AMC Theatres billed the film as Jet Li's Fearless.
  • The film is also known as Spirit in Japan.
  • The film is also known by its Chinese title Huo Yuanjia.[5]


The film holds a rating of 73% on Rotten Tomatoes with the consensus being, "Fearless is a brilliantly choreographed, beautifully filmed endcap to Li's quarter-decade of epic martial arts glory."[6] Empire gave two stars out of five with a verdict stating, "Despite impressive, CG-light action sequences and an absorbing story which certainly stands another re-telling, director Ronny Yu barely elevates this above the level of a direct-to-video fightfest. Hero or Crouching Tiger it ain't."[7]

Fearless opened in Hong Kong on 26 January 2006. The film played to blockbuster business, eventually grossed an exceptional HK$30,201,600 by the end of its run.[8]

On 22 September 2006, Fearless was released in 1,806 North American cinemas under the title Jet Li's Fearless. In its opening weekend, it placed 2nd at the box office to the sequel to Jackass, grossing US$10,590,244 (US$5,863 per screen). It was Jet Li's seventh film in a row to open to over US$10 million.[9] The film went on to gross US$24,633,730 by the end of its North American run—making it the sixth highest-grossing non-English language foreign film in the United States to date[10]—and its total worldwide gross US$68,072,848.[11][12]


The descendants of Huo Yuanjia were so upset by how their ancestor was portrayed in Fearless, as well as by the historical inaccuracies in the film, that they launched a lawsuit against Jet Li and the film's producers and distributors in March 2006. Huo Shoujin, an 81-year-old grandson of Huo Yuanjia, stated he was unhappy that the movie showed Huo Yuanjia causing "trouble", which led to the deaths of his mother and daughter.[13] Huo Shoujin also denounced the filmmakers for depicting his grandfather as a violent fighter.[14] In December 2006, a court in Beijing dismissed the case, saying Fearless was an exaggerated and fictitious portrait of Huo Yuanjia but it "contained no defamatory or libelous depictions".[15]


The film's soundtrack was composed by Shigeru Umebayashi.

The Taiwanese singer Jay Chou wrote and sang the theme song, also named "Huo Yuanjia". In the song, Chou sings in a falsetto voice for a few segments.

Awards and nominations[edit]

Organization Award Nominee Result Ref
26th Hong Kong Film Awards Best Action Choreography Yuen Woo-ping Won
Best Film Nominated
Best Actor Jet Li Nominated
Best New Performer Betty Sun Nominated
Best Film Editing Virginia Katz, Richard Learoyd Nominated
Best Original Song "Fearless" (composer: Jay Chou, lyricist: Vincent Fang, singer: Jay Chou) Nominated
Best Sound Design Richard Yawn Nominated
13th Hong Kong Film Critics Society Awards Best actor Jet Li Won
Film of Merit Won
43rd Golden Horse Awards Best Action Choreography Yuen Woo-ping Nominated [16]

See also[edit]


External links[edit]