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It is the during China’s age of humiliation. Europeans, Americans and the Japanese have carved out spheres of influence. These Imperialist foreigners treat the Chinese as second-class citizens in their own country. They attempt to change their culture and beliefs by introducing Christianity and European customs. Out of this upheaval comes a hero who is fearless. Fearless is very much an old-fashioned martial arts film with a hero who redeems himself by fighting for his country. The film follows the life of Huo Yuanjia, a national hero and founder of the Jing Wu Sports Federation, beginning with his early years of training in Tianjin and culminating in 1910 with an epic battle against four fighters who represent the foreign powers vying for control of China at the time. At a time when the Chinese were never weaker, Huo demonstrated to the world that the Chinese were people of great strength, ancient fighting skills and honor.

Huo's story is told in flashback and in the flashback to his youth, Huo is proud and arrogant who takes up fighting as revenge. Huo, mislead by a disciple kills a rival martial arts master named Qin. As a result, Qin's godson kills Huo's mother and daughter in revenge. Huo must make a journey to cleanse his guilt and arrives in a remote village. He is saved by a blind beauty and her grandmother who teach him to plant rice and appreciate the little things in life. They help him get on the road to recovery and through simple acts of kindness; he begins to learn the value of kindness and mercy. When he returns to Tianjin, he apologizes to the family of Qin and reconciles with his businessman friend whom he offended earlier. He is troubled when he finds his home overran with Western customs, Western dress and Western contempt. So he does what most action films demand of him, he takes to the ring again, but now knowing the wisdom of the blow he delivers and to defend his homeland. He defeats an American wrestler, a British boxer, a Belgian lancer and a French fencer. He ends up dying at the hands of Japanese judo fighter, whose sponsor poisons him, but still manages to fight and win.

The story is based loosely on actual events and it turns out that the Huo presented in the movie is just a conventional hero made just for the movies. It seems to me that the film is aimed at a Chinese audience who probably revel in a hero kicking the butt of those who once occupied China. The action scenes are well-chorepgraphed, but the plot is predictable and formulaic. This does not stop me from using a clip from the film for my Imperialism unit.

When I teach Imperialism in China, I use 10 minutes from the film towards the end of the unit. After watching the clip, students have to answer the following questions: According to the film, what countries do each of the fighters represent? Who wins? How does this scene contradict what really happened to China during this time period?

Here is a preview of the film.