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August 01, 2013

The King of the Streets

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Jie Tou Zhi Wang
Yue Song & Zhong Lei - 2012
Well Go USA Entertainment Region 1 DVD

Sometimes relying on an old-fashioned story is fine. In the case of The King of the Streets, the story is frankly a pastiche of familiarity, with the prodigal son winning back the approval of his father, saving the orphanage, and facing off against his best friend who is now with the bad guys. There's enough here for a film set in contemporary Beijing to recall older Hollywood movies where a wrestler or boxer gets back in the ring and redeems himself following the disgrace of killing an opponent. The audience that will probably most enjoy this film may not be too concerned with originality. And that's OK.

Feng emerges from prison, eight years after killing a boy. The boy, who had a knife, was one of about two dozen guys who attempt to kill, or at least beat up, the unarmed Feng. After saving a young woman, Yi, from a gang of thugs, Feng helps out at the orphanage where she works. The orphanage is on land coveted by a developer. The developer's son, who squandered funds gambling, is attempting to intimidate the orphanage's owner with hired goons. Feng discovers that his former best friend is now working for the son. Feng also looks out for the grandmother of the boy he killed, and tries to reunite with his father, a taxi driver. Yi demonstrates that she can do a few hard hitting moves herself, but for the most part leaves it to Feng to handle the assortment of badasses who threaten the orphanage.

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Martial artist Yue Song made the film to showcase his talents, which include having a hand in the direction, and the screenplay, as well as playing the title role. How much of the film should be credited to Yue or to co-director Zhong Lei, I wouldn't be able to say. There are some nice visual touches which should be acknowledged. There is noticeable use of lateral tracking shots. One nicely done scene is of Feng having dinner in the small restaurant run by an old friend. The camera tracks left as the friend goes to the back to talk to his wife, persuading her to let Feng stay with them briefly. The camera tracks back to the right to see that Feng has left the table. The main strength of the filmmakers is when they are able to tell their story visually.

Bruce Lee is mentioned a couple of times in comparison to Feng. Yue is probably hoping to the kind of martial artist who becomes an international star. The fight scenes are too frenetically cut for my tastes much of the time, and I really can't distinguish one style of fighting from another. Almost counter-intuitively, where Yue and his filmmaking team really shine is in expressing a sense of loneliness amidst the bright lights of Beijing. While Yue's attempt at giving the character Feng some mythical attributes at the end of the film is a misstep, the main narrative works as a kind of parable about contemporary China, where the quest for fame and money have pushed aside Confucian values.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at August 1, 2013 07:00 AM