Fist 2 Fist (2011)

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Hapkido master Jino Kang unleashes this action packed drama co-starring Human Weapon star Bill Duff in the villain role.

Kang plays Ken Min, a martial artist who used to be part of a gang run by Tokyo Joe. When he decided to go straight and turned in his former comrade, Ken has made it a living to do good by teaching martial arts at the local community center. While Ken takes in a new student in former hoodlum Jim, he also receives the news that the community center has lost all of its funding and will have to close eventually unless Ken can raise $100,000.

Meanwhile, Tokyo Joe has been released from prison and has a score to settle with Ken. He gathers a gang of thugs for an upcoming martial arts competition. When Joe finally confronts Ken, he makes him an offer that Ken has no other choice but to accept. Ken and his students Jim, Gen, and Erik must compete against Joe’s goons for a prize of $100,000. Ken takes his students to train with experts in Judo, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Mixed Martial Arts, and Muay Thai Kickboxing. Meanwhile, Ken’s wife Mimi, who once was Joe’s ex-girlfriend, confronts her old beau and is kidnapped as a result. Ken must now make the ultimate sacrifice to save his wife and settle the score with his former comrade turned enemy.

The martial arts film is quite an interesting genre to work with. While most may forget the story and focus on the fight scenes, there have been some exceptions where the story is crucial to the action. Jino Kang’s directorial debut here, originally titled Hand 2 Hand, is one of those films where the story proves to be crucial to the action. Hapkido expert Kang does quite well as Ken, the possible tragic hero of the film as a man who attempts to atone for his sins by becoming a martial arts teacher. He still has a bit of guilt about his past and it drives into overload when he takes in new student Jim, well played by Peter Rollojay Woodrow. However, it seems like Ken’s other students Gen and Erik seem more along the lines of throwaway characters rather than of importance.
Bill Duff, star of the reality series Human Weapon, plays it off pretty well as Tokyo Joe, a former hood who thrives on fighting and even had made money promoting fights while serving time. Duff spends most of the film grimacing and setting up as Ken’s former comrade turned rival. While he has a lackey in Bruno, played in typical foil-type by James Hiser, one of his fellow thugs should have had a better chance as the lackey for this type of film. Former Ultimate Fighter Tim Lajcik plays the recruiter of Tokyo Joe’s gang, Rocky. Lajcik should have had the chance to show his mixed martial arts skills on screen, but is sadly relegated to showing his skills during a training sequence. For a martial arts action film, it would have made a little more sense to have Rocky be the lackey and perhaps, have the chance to show his MMA skills on screen.

What martial arts fans will find astonishing is the appearance of real-life martial artists playing themselves as they train Ken’s students in various styles. Muay Thai fighter Armando Ramos, who appears with Kang in the opening fight sequence, trains Jim in Muay Thai. Charles Gracie trains Jim in the art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Eddie Bravo trains Jim, Gen, and Erik in grappling arts while the legendary Gene LeBell trains the trio in his art of Judo.

The film’s action sequences, choreographed by Kang, showcase a combination of kickboxing-style fights, Kang’s predominant style of Hapkido, and Mixed Martial Arts. Some of the fights seem to look like something expected in Tae Kwon Do competitions. In the opening, Kang takes on a thug who looks to have a bit of Capoeira in his arsenal but seems more along the likes of Tae Kwon Do. As for the Mixed Martial Arts fights that dominate the finale, the camera angles look pretty decent and the editing isn’t too bad. However, the problem comes in the lighting. At times, it is difficult to see any impact due to the darkness of the cage fights. Those hoping to see an exciting finale between Kang and Duff will be disappointed as the fight doesn’t last long despite a good use of slow motion techniques used at the right times. The fight should have been done better and not feel rushed, yet Kang does get an A for effort. Let’s hope he does better with his next film.

Fist 2 Fist is a pretty good introduction to Hapkido master Jino Kang. For those who may not have heard of him, he definitely proved himself to be a first-time filmmaker here despite a lackluster final fight. He is set to appear in another film, and one can only hope he will improve with it. Definitely worth a rental.

WFG RATING: B-

A Black Belt Productions LLC Production. Director: Jino Kang. Producers: Jino Kang and Kurt Nangle. Writer: Jino Kang. Cinematography: Kurt Nangle. Editing: Tony Urgo.

Cast: Jino Kang, Bill Duff, Michael Bauld, Peter Rallojay Woodruff, Michelle Choi, Tim Lajcik, Michelle Tan, James Hiser.

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