REVIEW: Fists of Legend (2013)

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2013, CJ Entertainment/Cinema Service

Director:
Kang Woo-Seok
Producer:
Chung Sun-Yeong
Writer:
Jang Min-Seok
Editing:
Ko Im-Pyo

Cast:
Hwang Jeong-Min (Lim Deok-Kyu)
Yoo Joon-Sang (Lee Sang-Hoon)
Lee Yo-Won (Hong Kyu-Min)
Yoon Je-Moon (Shin Jae-Seok)
Jeong Woong-In (Son Jin-Ho)
Seong Ji-Roo (Seo Kang-Guk)
Ji Woo (Lim Soo-Bin)

The title may seem similar to a famous Jet Li film, but this is not a remake. This is a really great mixed martial arts drama from Korea courtesy of director Kang Woo-Suk (Public Enemy).

Noodle shop owner Lim Deok-Kyu lives a quiet and unexciting life. This is a major difference from his high school days, when he was an amateur boxer. He is constantly berated by his mother-in-law and is ignored constantly by his daughter Soo-Bin.  When unscrupulous television producer Hong Gyu-Min creates a show that shows former high school fighters taking each other on, she invites Deok-Kyu, who at first refuses. However, when financial strife hits him hard, he joins the show and soon becomes a star.

However, with his newfound fame comes a price. Two of his former friends, Lee Sang-Hoon  and Shin Jae-Seok have also joined the show for their own reasons. Sang-Hoon has lost his self-respect as the manager of a PR company when he is constantly harassed by his boss and former friend Son Jin-Ho. Jae-Seok has become a low level gangster who is constantly seen as a mere henchman and wants to become somebody. When the three former friends learn of a tournament that Ms. Hong has created called the “Match of Legends”, the prize is $200,000, they come face-to-face with what could be their destinies.

Mixed martial arts films have been a dime a dozen. Most of the time, they have simplistic plots and rely only on the action. There have been some exceptions, notably Gavin O’Connor’s Warrior (2011). This film, based on an internet comic by Lee Jong-Gyu, is also one of those exceptions. Clocked in at 153 minutes, the film’s narrative is the driving force of the film.

The cast of the film give out great performances, notably Hwang Jeong-Min as Deok-Kyu. Deok-Kyu was an amateur boxer and Olympic hopeful who loses to a rigged contest and goes a downward spiral that nearly cost him everything. At first, he is seen as a loser to everyone, including himself. However, he soon makes a transition from zero to hero and back to zero only to eventually find what is right and does what he can not only to gain the respect of his daughter, but to seek redemption in himself. In fact, an emotional scene midway through the film made this reviewer shed a tear.

While it seems Lim’s story may be somewhat the focus of the story, we learn more about his former friends Sang-Hoon and Jae-Seok, two men who like their fallen friend, lack self-respect and are seen as losers to everyone. Through the use of flashbacks does the viewer fully understand what caused the three friends’ lives to change forever and the road to redemption for all three.

While there are a few antagonists in the film, none tend to come more reviled at times than Lee Yo-Won’s Ms. Hong. Lee plays the role as someone who cares only about the ratings of her creation. She constantly nags and even goes to some threatening to get what she wants when it comes to the talent of the show. At times, she is no better than a gangster who demands money especially when she poses a threat against one of the three guys if he doesn’t accept to go on the show. At least she doesn’t go as far as trying to rig the fights. She just wants a good show to earn the ratings.

Action director Jung Doo-Hong once again dazzles the screen with his choreography. Using mixed martial arts as the central force behind the action, he tends to use distinct styles for most of the film in terms of the characters. For instance, Deok-Kyu is a skilled Western boxer while Sang-Hoon is a skilled tae kwon do kicker. In a twist that may remind viewers of Never Back Down 2: The Beatdown (2011), the three men, along with the other five competing in the big tournament that takes up the third act, train in mixed martial arts under Jason Kim, a MMA champion who is the technical advisor of the show. The editing of the tournament fights is nice for the most, amid a few extreme close ups, but for the most part, overhead and wide shots are nicely used as well as long shots to showcase MMA techniques. They really make the cast, who trained under Jung for the film, look quite nice in the action.

The film had four nominations for four awards at the 50th Grand Bell Awards in Korea. Hwang Jeong-Min was up for Best Actor. Yoo Jung-Sang was nominated for Best Supporting Actor. Newcomers Park Jung-Min and Park Doo-Shik were nominated both for Best New Actor for their portrayals of the young Deok-Kyu and Jae-Seok.

If you liked the mixed martial arts film Warrior, then Fists of Legend is definitely Korea’s answer to that film. Note that the word “answer” and not “version” is used. The film brings a good narrative that drives the action as well as some great performances by Hwang Jeong-Min, Yoo Jung-Sang, and Yoon Je-Moon as the three middle aged men who despite being past their prime seek redemption in themselves in the world of mixed martial arts. Definitely worth viewing.

WFG RATING: A

DVD

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