Jet Li's Fearless is a fictional account of the life of Huo Yuanjia, a historical figure from early 20th century China. In the waning days of the Manchu Empire, Huo Yuanjia kept up Chinese morale by defeating various foreign strongmen. Before his early death, Huo helped to found the Jing Wu Athletic Association.
In some ways, this movie was similar to the last Jet Li film I saw, Hero; it is very clear that Fearless is a Chinese film. While a significant portion of the film is standard martial arts movie melodrama (one man against twenty, killer punches to the heart, entire families being killed), the second part of the film concerns China's weak geopolitical position at the beginning of the 20th century. Just as the historical Huo Yuanjia would challenge and defeat foreign fighters, his film counterpart defeats various opponents. First is a stereotypical American wrestler named Hercules O'Brien (played by Australian Nathan Jones; pictured at left), who, despite his immense power and tricolor shorts, is not only unable to defeat Huo, but respects him by the end of the match. Similarly, the Japanese fighter Tanaka realizes that Huo is not only more skillful than him, but merciful as well.
It is clear that the film is an allegory for China's continuing "peaceful rise." China, as personified by Huo Yuanjia, is not only strong enough to hold his own in the world (even against China's traditional antagonists of the West and Japan) but just - only fighting in defense of lost Chinese honor, helping to restore his country to its deserved position among the world's Great Powers.
In one scene, Huo repudiates his arrogance and aggressive nature in the earlier part of the film, noting that "Chinese should not fight Chinese," but that they should be "united." While Huo is literally referring to the men he defeated to become the premier martial artist in Tianjin, there is a clear reference to Taiwan here.
While the story of Fearless is intrinsically likable, it is difficult to appreciate the film as a whole if you disagree with its moralizing aspects. While I do not blame the movie for ignoring Chinese support for Mugabe's regime in Zimbabwe, the rollback of democracy in Hong Kong, oppression of Uighurs in Xinjiang, Tibet, and the host of other things that bother me about the PRC, it does not sit well with me that the film completely ignores them.