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Born to Defence

List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by J. Doyle Wallis | posted June 4, 2004 | E-mail the Author
With the recent Abu Bhraib prison abuse scandal still fresh on the headlines, it is rather fitting Born to Defense (1986) is hitting the US (mainstream) DVD shelves. Sure, its just a HK b-grade action film and only a minor blip on Jet Li's career, but it does have a huge anti-US military bias and manages to portray US sailors as arrogant disrespectful abusers of their occupying power. So, if you weren't getting enough real life disturbing imagery on the news about how callous we are, now you can rent a movie in the same vein with a fictional, cheesy exploitative slant. Hooray.

Set in the days following WW2, Jet Li is Jet (Thank you imaginative dubbing!), a Chinese soldier who helped defend his homeland from the invading Japanese. Upon his return from the war, he finds his hometown is giving all of its respect to the US forces stationed in the area and the sailors are using the clout to abuse the townspeople and generally misbehave. He tries to help out his comrade, Lt. Xiang, who barely mana ges as pedicab driver and has a daughter who has turned to prostitution in order to survive. After Lt/ Xiang is injured, Jet takes over his job until the sailors destroy the pedicab and force Jet into becoming their sparring partner/punching bag. When the sailors finally cross the line and go too far, Jet goes on a one man vendetta for justice.

The foreign devil as the big bad guy is nothing new in HK action cinema. Li's best film is probably Fist of Legend, which was a remake of the granddaddy of all Chinese Vs. Japanese martial films, Bruce Lee's Fist of Fury. Born to Defence takes that same mold, only this time it's the righteous Chinese soldier Vs. American asshole sailors. And, it is a completely one-sided affair. Chinese = Good. Americans = Bad. Considering the Japanese atrocities in WW2, you can see where that bad blood stems from, but the anti-US view in Born to Defense isn't as clear. But, then again, there doesn't have to be a rational in a b-film of this sort. Jet just needs someone else to fight, and in loafers, an orange shirt, and Osh Kosh B'gosh overalls, no less.

This is Jet Li's sole directorial credit, and frankly, while the film is not a total washout, you can see there probably wasn't too much promise for him behind the camera (he can't even get eyelines to match very well). It is a decent b-picture, a worthy curiosity if you are a Jet Li fan. Jet sports a more pumped up physique, perhaps in a conscious effort to make him seem more on par with the cast of gwailos he was facing. Speaking of which, Li only facing white guys does make for a hit and miss element. The novelty of the sheer size of the main bad guy, his being a good foot taller than Jet (so tall that Jet has to hop in order to punch him in the head), makes for an interesting contrast. However, white guys just don't have the same martial prowess as Jet's HK contemporaries. I guess Jet should have learned from Bruce Lee, who had good enough sense to realize fighting Kareem Abdul Jabar was neat for maybe one fight but not throughout the course of an entire film.

The DVD: Buena Vista/Dimension

Picture: Anamorphic Widescreen. While the print is fairly clean and free of specks or dirt, it has a serious grain issue. Especially evident in the darker lit interior scenes, the film is swimming in grain. Now, for a mid-80's HK film getting a basic (non-remastered and spruced up) transfer, it is a pretty nice job, but it still has some quirks that could be improved. The grain and contrast are pretty messy, and the sharpness and color are strictly on the average side.

Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1 English dub. It isn't too terrible- that is, the original audio, the music and sound. The fight fx and lackluster score sound fair, nothing to get too excited about, but that's the way a mid-80's HK film is going top sound. The dub, like 99% of dubs, is pretty hideous. At first, I cried foul when I saw a black actor was dubbed with a jive talkin' accent, however, the more I watched him you realze just from his mannerisms that was probably how the guy spoke.

Extras: Chapter Selections— Trailer for Dragon Lord, plus a Dimension home video preview..... in other words- zilch.

Conclusion : Even if this wasn't a mediocre Jet Li film, do you think I'm going to give the thumbs up to a English dub only release of an HK film? Well, actually I would, only, its not like this is some obscure independent chop socky being put out by a small DVD company. No, the higher-ups in command at Dimension think their foreign action fans are fools, and they don't bother to even try to put an original language track on their HK action releases. Screw em'. Rent it or import an original language version.

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