Kurt Roland Petersson
Widescreen (1.85:1) Enhanced for 16×9 Televisions
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound
Running Time: 91 Minutes
This film was directed by Jet Li and was originally made in 1986.
Jet Li plays a young Chinese soldier coming home at the end of World War II. As he returns to start his life again, he finds his town overrun by rude, violent, and arrogant American sailors. Despite the problems they cause for the locals, Li only wants to meet up with his old war buddy and help him out. But eventually Li is forced into a confrontation with the foreign Yankee devils. Their fights escalate from boxing matches in a bar all the way to a life and death battle where Li must face the evil American captain of the sailors in hand to hand combat.
Born To Defense is rated R for violence and some language.
I haven’t seen too many Jet Li movies, but I’ve generally been impressed by what I have seen. While Jackie Chan’s style is more for laughs and gasps of awe, Jet Li is more of a straight-up action hero whose moves are choreographed to make him look cool, not foolish. But like Jackie Chan’s movies, I don’t watch Jet Li movies for the plot. I watch it for the action. That being said, though, Born to Defense has a little bit more plot than most martial arts movies. It is even artistic at times in the way shots are set up and lit. I was impressed with what Jet Li was able to do in his first outing as a director. Unfortunately, it was the plot that was the one thing that turned me off.
What I disliked about Born to Defense was the fact that it portrayed Americans in such a negative light. They are portrayed so badly that it almost became laughable. The sailors almost ran people over as they walk down the street. They harass Li and a pregnant woman in labor on her way to the hospital. They are also stereotypically large, arrogant, and disrespectful of the Chinese. The film even shows a black sailor in such a stereotypical light that I half expected him to call Li “Massa” and jump down, turn around, and pick a bale of cotton. I have no problem with Americans being portrayed as the bad guys, but in this movie they are universally corrupt and the overall theme of the movie is “kill the Yankee foreign devils”.
Those gripes aside, Born to Defense has some awesome action in it. The film opens with a big battle between the Japanese and the Chinese. If you like lots of explosions, shooting, and guys flying through the air, then this is for you. The story then moves on to Li’s hometown where he gets in a boxing match with a sailor. Li, unfamiliar with the rules of boxing, proceeds to kick and head-butt his opponent. He is repeatedly corrected by the referee until he runs out of tricks. It’s an amusing scene and is a little clash of culture. The action later returns to the bar boxing ring as Li takes on the vengeful captain of the sailor. It’s a brutal, fast paced fight that is probably the high point of the movie. What I like about Li is that he’s not above using dirty tricks in his battles. He bites, hits the guy from behind, kicks him where it hurts, and more. The DVD cover calls the fights “raw and realistic” and that’s an accurate statement. The battle between Li and the captain escalates into a full fledged bar brawl with a number of characters. The movie concludes with another battle between Li and the captain in a factory. It takes a particularly brutal turn when Li starts fighting with a chain. It’s a cool fight and a good one to end the movie on.
The acting is pretty standard for a martial arts film, but Li shows more life in this role than in any other film I’ve seen him in. His portrayal runs the full range of emotions from happy to sad to vengeful. It shows he has a lot more acting potential than you might otherwise expect.
There are no extras included on this DVD.
The Bottom Line:
The action in Born to Defense is awesome and Jet Li fans should be particularly happy to get this movie on DVD. But general American audiences may be turned off by the overall anti-American theme of the movie.