REVIEW: A Fight for Honor (1992)

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A young woman learns a lesson about the true nature of the sport she loves in this feature directorial debut of Texas-based martial arts instructor Sam Um.

Three years after beginning her training in the martial art of taekwondo, Crystal Lundgren has lost a recent tournament, which has left her depressed. Her mother and friends discourage her from continuing her training. Her mother wants Crystal to live life as a teenager. However, she is still loyal to her training and a chance encounter will change her life when she meets local pizza delivery boy Min-Suk Kim, who also is training in taekwondo from his grandfather.

Crystal realizes that her master only cares about winning competitions and in addition, she finds herself constantly harassed by classmate Bobby, who will not take no for an answer. When she accidentally hits Min-Suk with her car, which damages his bike and results in his losing his job, Crystal is sorry but learns about Min-Suk’s grandfather. At first, the grandfather refuses to train her due to her previous reasons for the martial art. However, seeing potential in her, the grandfather takes her in as a student along with Min-Suk’s friend David. The trio soon begin training for an upcoming tournament.

Sam Um, a Texas-based taekwondo and Gongkwon Yusul instructor, is perhaps best known today as the instructor of country music legend Willie Nelson, who earned a 5th-degree black belt from Um a few years ago. During the wake of the B-movie martial arts circuit that reigned on home video, Um took a chance and created his first film, a Karate Kid-like tale that could be said to be a precursor of the 1994 sequel The Next Karate Kid.

It is clear that the film doesn’t have any big names, but all local actors. However, in a brief appearance, the only “big name” is that of Bill Johnson as Crystal’s first taekwondo instructor. Johnson is known for his replacing Gunnar Hansen as the chainsaw-wielding killer Leatherface in the 1986 film Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. Here, Johnson plays it straight as a teacher who only cares about winning trophies and clearly doesn’t know the meaning of martial arts. The film’s true focus is on three characters, Crystal, Min-Suk, and their teacher, Min-Suk’s grandfather.

M.G. Lee, who also served as executive producer, plays the grandfather quite well. He clearly knows the true spirit of not only taekwondo, but martial arts as a whole and teaches both Min-Suk and Crystal, the latter more as her values in training are not what she had thought. C.K. Kim and Stacy Lundgren make the most of their roles as the students, especially Lundgren, whose character cares more about martial arts than what her mother and friends expect out of her. As expected, Min-Suk and Crystal slowly form a tight bond that blossoms into a romance much to the chagrin of bully Bobby, a former classmate of Crystal’s whose constant harassing comes from the fact he wants to date her, but she is not attracted by his arrogant ways. On the other hand, Min-Suk is more level headed and determined to keep his training going along with friend David, the comic relief of the film, played by Stephen Wong.

The martial arts action, choreographed by Um, is a meshing of basically TKD used for self-defense on the streets along with what to expect in martial arts tournaments. Lee and Kim actually look quite good in their skills while Lundgren, bless her soul, looks like she took up the training for the sake of the film. She does try her best but thankfully the tournament sequences bring a sense of what is seen in Olympic Taekwondo, so Lundgren’s skills are ultimately forgivable.

In the end, if you like films like The Karate Kid, then it is safe to say that A Fight for Honor is a family style locally shot film that showcases the spirit of martial arts with a decent effort from its local talent in front of the cameras and filmmaker Sam Um, who would make one more film with his legendary student, 2007’s Fighting with Anger.

WFG RATING: B-

A Master Films Production. Director: Sam Um. Producer: Sam Um. Writer: Sam Um. Cinematography: Phil Curry. Editing: Sam Um

Cast: M.G. Lee, C.K. Kim, Stacy Lundgren, Shannon Sedwick, Stephen Wong, Mark Kay, Bill Johnson, Daron Edwards, Cindy Wood, Kira Meissner.

This title is out of print but was available on VHS from York Home Video.

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