PHENOMENALITY: (1) *uncanny, (2) *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *sociological*
Here we have two so-called "mashups" between the events of real-world history and the tropes of metapheneomenal fiction.
Of the two, LEGEND OF THE FIST is the less enjoyable film though the realistic concern behind the film has a bit more bite to it. The events in this case deal with Chinese resistance to Japanese incursions during the Second Sino-Japanese War (roughly 1937-1945). The hero of the film is a fictional character named Chen Zhen, first played by Bruce Lee in 1972's FIST OF FURY, though this character may have been based a real-life historical model.
Chen Zhen (Donnie Yen) is first seen as one of many Chinese irregulars who see action in Europe, despite the fact that their own Euro-allies treated them less than humanely. Unlike his fellows Chen is a supremely talented kung-fu practitioner, but after one battle-sequence he shifts his efforts to wartime Shanghai, where he joins a resistance movement devoted to ousting the Japanese.
As one of Chen's contacts runs a bar-- called "Casablanca" in the English translation-- there are some minor intimations that the film may seek to imitate the plot-action of the famous 1942 film, particularly when the film sets up a potential romantic conflict between Chen, the bar-owner, and a beautiful nightclub-singer named Kiki. However, the romantic subplot never develops, as the film follows previous Chen Zhen films-- not only the Lee flick but also Jet Li's 1994 FIST OF LEGEND-- in concentrating on the feats of the hero as he kicks around various Japanese flunkies, working his way up the food chain until he battles their number-one fighter (Kohata Ryu).
There's not much dramatic interest in the one-note salutes to Chinese nationalism, worthwhile only as a motive for Donnie Yen's exceptional fight-choreography. As a further salute to Bruce Lee, Chen usually fights the Japanese in the costumed identity of "the Masked Warrior," whose outfit is transparently based on the costume of Kato from the 1960s "Green Hornet" teleseries, which role boosted Bruce Lee to stardom in his native China. This costume is the only metaphenomenal element in the film, in contrast to the earlier Chen Zhen films, which are resolutely isophenomenal.
ABRAHAM LINCOLN VAMPIRE HUNTER makes some scattered attempts to ground its preposterous concept in the real events of Abraham Lincoln's life, but the attempts are generally superficial. Despite Lincoln's role as "the Great Emancipator" he has not always been a four-square representative of liberal causes, so the film attempts to paint the future President as a thoroughgoing abolitionist. As a child he's seen picking up an axe to defend a black child-friend from a dastardly slaver, who also happens to be a vampire who preys on both black and white Americans.
This gesture is necessary because the film doesn't want to delve into the complex politics of the time. Bad slaveholders-- mostly but not exclusively Southerners-- are melded with the image of inhuman vampires. A skillful script could manage to get some sociological myth-mileage out of this, but for ABRAHAM it's little more than a shell game, designed to focus the conflict away from the historical conflict and toward the conflict of fantasy-characters. I don't have any facile Marxist-style objections to this: I believe the characters of archetypal narratives have their own "lives," so to speak. But if one is going to bring them into contact with subject matter with intense real-world consequences, then one should make some attempt to blend the best aspects of both fantastic and realistic modes.
The script follows a fairly standard adventure-film pattern without much deviation, even to bringing in the historical William Johnson (Lincoln's black valet) as the hero's ethnic buddy. The film's main virtue are the high-energy battle-scenes between the axe-wielding "rail-splitter" and his vampiric adversaries-- in particular a cartoonish scene during a horse-stampede. However, the villains prove less than memorable, and it's instructive to hear one of the filmmakers comment on the DVD that the primary villain, a fellow named Adam, was conceived almost as an afterthought.