"The movie, though mostly a fictional portrayal of a real-life person's life, could fit into many genres; melodrama, action, gangster and even a touch of comedy."
Fighter In the Wind (2004)
Director: Yang Yun-Ho
Writer: Yang Yun-Ho
Producer: Jeon Ho-Jin
Cast: Yang Dong-Geun, Masaya Kato, Aya Hirayama, Jeong Tae-Wu, Jeong Du-Hong, Park Seong-Min, Lee Han-Ga
Running Time: 120 min.
Plot: See review below.
Availability: This title is available at HKflix.com
OWLMAN'S REVIEW: I really enjoyed Fighter in the Wind. However, it should be noted that I've come to the recent realization that I'm a sucker for "underdog" movies - stories where somebody goes up against seemingly insurmountable odds and triumphs. Films about sports are built around derivatives of such a storyline and as much as it pains me to say it, I get a kick out of them. Maybe it's a testimony to how I've lived my life - except for the winning part and the fame/glory that comes from winning the big tournament.
Anyway, back to Fighter in the Wind. It's a fascinating take on the life of Choi Baedal, a native Korean who made his way into Japan and made it through his sad-sack life there to become one of the top karate masters in the country. According to this film, he had to go through some serious challenges to get there - the harsh treatment accorded to Koreans by the Japanese, the tragic loss of his 1 st master, the love and loss of a Japanese geisha (Yuko, played by Aya Hirayama), the brutal training regiment in the mountains, and facing the wrath of the union of karate dojos.
However, according to this film, he made it through and supposedly defeated every single dojo master in Japan, with the media following the amazing story of a foreigner mastering the Japanese martial art.
I emphasize "according to this film" because, quite frankly, all biographical movies that I know of tend to exaggerate and/or fictionalize many aspects of the subject's life. For example, the whole training regiment in the mountains. It consisted of toughening his body by putting it through beatings with tree trunks and rocks, up until his body became so tough that he could crack stones. That's one hell of a training regiment, particularly when you factor in the lack of any real food in the mountains - so much so that I thought Baedal was going to come down, don a ninja outfit, and start killing some bad guys.
Regardless, it sure made for an entertaining film. The fights were short and that's a good thing - if they put any of the fancy-pants ballet in there (not that there's anything wrong with it in general), it would have added to an already fairly exaggerated story. Not only that, they were brutal in that Baedal would take quite a few blows before laying a smackdown with a just a couple of moves.
Also, the love interest sure was a cutie. I don't know what the hell MPM was smoking when he watched this movie but Aya Hirayama is one hell of a looker - Jeon Ji-Hyun's got nothing on this one.
In conclusion, Fighter in the Wind was a very good story, even if it can't be accepted as absolute truth of the life of Choi Baedal. One final note - some have mentioned that the character of Ryu from Street Fighter was based on this film. I beg to differ. Based on the epilogue of the movie where Baedal faces against a raging bull, only one video game came to mind...
OWLMAN'S RATING: 8/10
MIGHTY PEKING MAN'S REVIEW: "Fighter In the Wind" is the story of Choi Bae-dul, a real-life legendary martial arts figure who, during his peak, defeated hundreds of martial arts experts in Japan and around the world. He's also the founder of Kyokushin Karate, which millions of students still practice today.
Much of "Fighter In The Wind" takes place during World War II and is set in Japan. The first half of the film follows the adventures of a young Choi Bae-dul (Yang Dong-Geun), whose passion to become a pilot takes a side-winding nose dive when death and humiliation destroy his dreams. Ultimately, fate leads him to the world of martial arts where he becomes an unbeatable, but agonized, Karate master.
The second half of the film becomes a Wong Jing production. After all the epic, lavishly produced, World War II shit, we get something of a live action, unlicensed "Street Fighter II: Turbo" movie.
Choi Bae-dul, now in top form, travels all around the country, by foot, to challenge and defeat opponents of different styles and origins. Even his worn out, white Karate Gi looks identical to the one Ryu wears in the "Streetfighter" video game. This cartoon-like transition is strange, but doesn't hurt or strengthen the film in any way.
Yang Dong-Geun, who plays Choi Bae-dul, gives a pretty dull performance; but I doubt he's to blame. I'm sure a silent, depressed and stone-faced portrayal of the main character was what the script called for. But damn, they could have given him at least some personality. It's only during the martial arts scenes where Yang Dong-Geun demonstrates talent, but only in physical form. (If you want to see him in a more charismatic role, check out his police-thriller "Wild Card.")
If there's something I can appreciate about "Fighter In The Wind," it's the film's fight choreography. No CG and no wires. For the most part, the sequences are well-staged, somewhat realistic, and brutal. Not as hard-hitting as say "Ong Bak," but still impressive. I could have done without all that over-cranking shit, though; not to mention some of those music video edits and hard pauses. I hate that crap.
On a minor note, that Japanese chick could have been cuter. Not 100% her fault though. After all, any woman's face becomes crap after seeing a commercial featuring Jeon Ji-Hyun ("My Sassy Girl") that Equinox e-mailed me; and should I even mention the latest batch of Jessica Alba's ass-in-the-air photos floating around google?
On a crucial note, I don't like the band Evanescence. During a "Rocky IV"-inspired training sequence, a song plays loudly in the background and it sounds a lot like that Evanescence shit (you know, a pretty female voice mixed over some Limp Bizkit). I'm sure it wasn't actually Evanescence, but whoever it was sucked; and I blame the director for actually putting the song in the movie.
MIGHTY PEKING MAN'S RATING: 5/10
EQUINOX21'S REVIEW: Fighter in the Wind is a story loosely based on the true story of Choi Bae-dul, a Korean transplanted to Japan during WWII. As he studied martial arts, he became the greatest fighter in all of Japan, defeating all their masters. The movie, though mostly a fictional portrayal of a real-life person's life, could fit into many genres; melodrama, action, gangster and even a touch of comedy.
The story of a man out of place in another country and another culture is not a new one, though we see it from a different perspective in this film. There have been a good number of Korean films dealing with the Japanese occupation of Korea, but fewer dealing with Koreans IN Japan. Fighter in the Wind shows the inherent racism towards Koreans living in Japan, especially towards one person who proves himself the superior martial artist to many Japanese masters. What is most interesting (at least to me) is how those Japanese that don't know Choi show nothing but contempt towards him, while those that get to know him, end up with a certain respect, and almost reverence for him.
One thing I didn't care for was that one part of the story was left abruptly, and another one started very close to the end of the film. It simply felt out of place and was a bit distracting to the flow of the film. I can understand the purpose for this as far as telling Choi's story; however, these situations (directly linked to each other) should have occurred much earlier in the film so as to not make it feel so awkwardly paced.
Of course, you can't tell the entire history of a real person's development in just two hours, so some of the problems with FitW can be explained, but others were just cinematic mistakes and loose ends never being tied off. All in all, however, I really enjoyed it.
EQUINOX21'S RATING: 8/10