Thursday, March 2, 2006

Somluck's luck in Fearless

Anywhere else in the world, the big news about Fearless would be that it’s Jet Li's last kung fu movie. But in Thailand, it's trickier than that.

Olympic featherweight boxer Somluck Kamsing was cast in Fearless as (what else?) a Thai boxer who's among an international cast of combatants for Jet's character. You can see him on the posters and other media advertising the film, which opened in Thailand on March 2.

He’s the one in a boxer pose, with his forearms and fists taped up, sort of like Tony Jaa in Ong Bak. Fearless also features Nathan Jones, the Australian strongman and wrestler who loomed large in Tom Yum Goong.

However, with a big cast of characters and an ambitious, epic story to tell, Fearless, directed by Ronny Yu and choreographed by Yuen Wo Ping, was running too long. So Somluck, who’s previously co-starred in Panna Rittikrai's Born to Fight, saw his scenes snipped in an effort to get the 140-minute film down to just over 100 minutes.

But he shouldn’t feel bad. An even bigger star, Michelle Yeoh, also saw her scenes end up on the cutting-room floor. And Somluck can still count himself lucky – he's actually worked with a kung-fu legend.

However, there's another however. According to Fearless distributor, Buena Vista International, although Somluck's scenes were cut from the international version of Fearless, audiences in Thailand will still get to see him in a special Thailand-only, Thai-dubbed release.

Apparently, there were a lot of tongues wagging in the local media that Somluck had never even acted in the film.

"First of all we'd like to thank all media who were interested in the film and caught the news on Somluck," Dujdao Prommbol, Buena Vista's senior marketing officer, says in a press release. "Because of the problem of screening longer-length films abroad, Somluck's and Michelle's scenes were cut. But in Thailand, we will release a longer version so fans here will surely see Somluck fighting with Jet Li."

The Thai release has Somluck's scene, but no scenes with Michelle Yeoh.

In Fearless, Li portrays the great martial arts master, Huo Yuanjia (1868 to 1910), who’s revered as a folk hero in China. Bits and pieces of Huo’s legend have turned up on film before. In Fist of Fury, Bruce Lee portrays a student of Huo, who turns up in foreigner-dominated Shanghai just as his master has been killed by a rival martial-arts school. Lee's character, Chen Zen, goes nuts, most famously doing a high kick to splinter a sign on a public park that says "No dogs and Chinese allowed." Jet Li starred in Fist of Legend, a 1994 remake of Fist of Fury.

In those films, Huo is nothing but a corpse for Lee and Li to be dramatically bereaved over. In Fearless, he’s a very much a living and fighting being, growing from a bullied boy who trains himself how to fight. He becomes an arrogant, hot-headed young man, but comes to realise that violence only begets more violence. But, he also finds that martial arts still have a place in society, and he makes it his life's mission to promote a style of fighting that emphasises skill and sportsmanship over brutality.

The scene comes as Huo has gone off to walk the Earth like Cain, and ends up in a hilltribe village somewhere in Asia. Somluck is a fighter in a neighboring village who challenges Huo to a fight. For the Thai audiences, I think these scenes were enjoyed most of all - especially the sight of Jet Li trying to learn how to plant rice.

According to the legend, it was a fight with a Thai boxer that turned Huo on to developing a style of kung fu that’s more of a sport, rather than a means for killing, so the scene with Somluck actually turns out to be a crucial one in the story.

(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

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