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February 18, 2014

Fists of Legend

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Kang Woo-suk - 2013
CJ Entertainment Region 1 DVD

Ignore the generic title. Really. I was quite pleasantly surprised because I didn't know much about this film and was expecting it to mostly be about guys beating each other up. Not that there's anything wrong with that as I've written about films where the fighting is the prime reason why the film was made in the first place. And there is a generous amount of guys pummeling each other here, but there is also the back story which is what makes Fists of Legend of more than passing interest.

The basic premise is that there is a Korean television reality show where men try to show off their fighting skills against each other. Many of the contestants are not trained. While billed as a boxing match, there is kicking and wrestling moves as well. The producer of the show, a youngish woman known as Ms. Hong, goads Lim, known for taking on a rival high school students and a local street gang, into appearing on the show. What is in the works is for Lim to be reunited with three friends from his high school days, in 1988, when he was also in training for the Olympics.

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The story really isn't about who has the greatest fighting skills. With the many flashbacks to 1988, the film is about how you can leave high school, but high school never really leaves you. Denied a chance at the Olympics due to questionable judging, Lim ekes out a living with a small noodle restaurant. His new found celebrity following his winning bout on television brings in customers, but also a new set of expectations that he would prefer not to deal with. For the characters here, there is a question of how much of the past do you allow to define yourself, and what parts are you willing to let go.

"Eye of the Tiger" is part of the soundtrack, and there is a bit of similarity to Rocky in that Lim initially hopes that boxing will be his way out of what appears to be a less than promising life. A scene with the younger Lim running while wearing a hoodie certainly is a reminder of Stallone. There is even the equivalent to Rocky's ringside opponents in the form of a menacing, bald headed brute known as The Turtle. The question here isn't whether Lim will win, or at least go the distance, but rather, will he win, or lose, honestly? Manhood isn't defined as the ability to kick someone's ass, but by a sense of integrity.

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Posted by peter at February 18, 2014 08:05 AM