Since Fearless was hyped as Jet Li's last-ever martial arts film, it has a lot to prove from the minute the titles roll. Such a bold announcement might inspire cynical viewers to roll their eyes at what would appear to be a blatant PR move, but Fearless proves itself to be a graceful and earnest attempt at the most literally definitive wushu (martial arts) film ever made. A fictionalized account of the life of turn-of-the century martial artist Huo Yuanjia, the narrative injects Huo's story with classic elements of rise-fall-and-redemption fables in order to emphasize the already-momentous effect that Huo's career had on China's precarious cultural identity at a time when Western powers were subjugating and exploiting the Chinese people on a massive scale. The choices work beautifully; when Huo's hedonism as a successful fighter leads him to lose everything, the film reaches a crux that in countless chop-socky kung fu movies has set the protagonist with nothing left to lose on a path of revenge. But here, the hero's fate is carried along a more meaningful current, and he eventually awakens to the bounty of what he still has to fight for: his nation. It becomes clear that Fearless is meant in many ways to remind the Chinese people of their cultural and historical character, but this doesn't detract from its more universal message about the true meaning of wushu -- that its purpose is to better oneself for the help and protection of others. It's very impressive that even as Huo learns to extinguish animosity between China's wushu schools and encourage competitive fighting between them only as a means of inner exploration, the film's depiction of how wushu fighters approach their matches with foreigners does not become prejudicial. On the contrary, despite the movie's portrayal of how exploitive and racist many foreign powers were, it also illustrates how any fighter who understands the truth behind wushu is capable of overcoming dishonesty and corruption -- and that this is just as true for members of the nations that are otherwise abusive to China. The overall feel of Fearless is relatively distinct in Li's filmography. Its epic, sweeping mood stands in contrast to Li's adrenaline-fueled action thrillers like The One, but despite its grandness and scale, it never reaches the fanciful, almost magical nature of Hero. The end product is almost perfectly balanced, proving that even if Li's promised retirement from martial arts films was indeed an honest attempt to leave the genre as accurately defined as possible, it was still a successful marketing tool because as deftly as Fearless accomplishes Li's goal, it also leaves us hoping that someday soon he'll be inspired to come out of retirement.