This martial-arts bildungsroman has been touted as star Jet Li’s farewell to the action flick, and it does feel like a final statement, albeit a shallow and predictable one. Lithe but inexpressive Hong Kong star Li, who built a U.S. following on both imported punch-outs and Western-made team-ups with the likes of DMX, plays kung fu virtuoso Huo Yuanjia. The period is the early 20th century, when much of China was under foreign control. That era is a common setting for Chinese action pictures, since it allows both historical pageantry and a patriotic outcome; typically, a homegrown moral paragon who’s also a kickass fighter defeats some more powerful but less spiritual alien. The story opens with Huo in Shanghai, dueling champions of four colonial powers. After he polishes off three, the film flashes back to Huo’s childhood in Tianjin. His father, a martial-arts master, declines to train his asthmatic son in hand-to-hand combat. The boy learns anyway, and grows up to become a cocky hothead, until his success leads to a calamity that teaches him the emptiness of fighting merely for personal glory. Huo hits the road, undertaking a private Cultural Revolution by becoming a peasant. After learning humility from planting rice, Huo returns to Tianjin, now overrun by the foreign scourge. He has no choice but to battle again, but this time for his country and not himself. Thematically, Fearless resembles the ’70s and ’80s Shaw Brothers Studios films shown recently at AFI, but it’s quite different in technique and tone. While the new film clearly had a bigger budget than those Shaw Brothers movies, director Ronnie Yu (a Hong Kong veteran who’s also directed such U.S. B-movies as Bride of Chucky) spent the money on sweeping but static views of cities and landscapes rather than offbeat humor or dynamic movement. Aside from one showdown on an elevated platform—which should at least get acrophobes’ adrenal glands working—the fight scenes are ordinary. Oddly, the movie’s resolution relies on the essential nobility of Hou’s Japanese opponent, a twist the Japanese-baiting Shaws would never have approved.—Mark Jenkins