• Fists of Legend



    Released by: CJ Entertainment
    Released on: February 18. 2014
    Director: Woo-Suk Kang
    Cast: Jeong-min Hwang, Woong-in Jung, Yu-won Lee
    Year: 2013
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    The Movie:

    A ratings hungry producer for a mixed-martial arts (MMA) TV show called Legendary Fighter convinces three high-school friends and old rivals to fight for a cash prize and their pride in this South Korean sports drama from director Woo-Suk Kang (Public Enemy Trilogy).

    Fists of Legend stars Jeong-min Hwang (New World, The Unjust) as likeable underdog Lim Deok-kyu, a single father and owner of a failing restaurant who is given a chance to turn his life around and reclaim his masculinity when he's offered to compete in a televised mixed-martial arts fighting tournament. The tournament pits middle-aged fighters who were once legends in their youth against each other for $20,000 in prize money per fight, with $200,000 going to the winner of the final tournament. Deok-kyu becomes a working class hero after winning his first major fight against an old friend turned small-time gangster, but his newly won celebrity puts pressure on his role as a father, and forces him to confront a secret from his past and a more violent part of himself he'd like to forget. The film then moves between the past the present, interweaving Deok-kyu's present struggles to succeed as a father and a fighter with the past he shared with three high-school friends and the crime that changed each of their lives.

    On first impression, Fists of Legend seems like its going to be a straightforward martial arts tournament film with a mixed martial arts focus to give the action a modern feel, but instead of being a non-stop fight fest, it ends up being a sports drama that tends to get lost in its own plot. For an MMA movie, this is a long and convoluted drama with too much going on outside the main action. There's enough plot here for two films: one about a single father trying to compete in a martial arts tournament and win the respect of his daughter, and another about three high-school friends who share a secret and whose lives have been shaped by their choices in the past. Throughout its two and a half hour running time, Fists of Legend often forgets that the “down on his luck single father fights in the MMA tournament plot” was its original focus. All of the major plot threads come together at the feel-good conclusion, but the movie often loses itself in extended flashback sequences and cliché sub-plots that are common to the genre.

    When Fists of Legend focuses on the action, the fights come fast and hard. The opening scene features three separate fight scenes (five if you want to get really technical) before the opening credits, and there's a new fight throughout the film at least every 20 minutes or so. There are almost as many fight scenes in the flashback sequences as there are in the present, but these tend to take on the over-the-top style of 1980s Hong Kong action films as opposed to the more realistic and physically intense MMA fight choreography in the present day sequences. Depending on your taste in action, this could add or detract from your enjoyment of the film, but this difference in the style and tone of the fight scenes tends to work thematically with the film's contrast between past and present. If you can sit through the film's more dramatic second half, the Tournament of Legends that comprises the film's final act delivers non-stop MMA action that is more than worth that wait.

    Fists of Legend features a strong lead performance from Jeong-min Hwang, who transforms onscreen from an underachieving yet likeable character whose illusions about himself are challenged, and then who rises up to meet that challenge as an unstoppable competitor in the octagon. The soundtrack to Fists of Legend uses Survivor's “Eye of the Tiger” so much it verges on self-parody, but there are echoes of Rocky Balboa in Hwang's performance that transcends homage to Stallone's champion underdog. Hwang delivers a solid, nuanced performance that carries the film throughout its less fight-focused interludes. It also has to be said that his physicality in the role is excellent. Though he acts like a lanky, awkward guy with little to no self-confidence through most of the film, once Hwang enters the octagon he's completely believable in the role of an ultimate fighter.

    Audio/Video/Extras

    Fists of Legend steps into the octagon on Blu-ray in widescreen 1080p with a MPEG-4 AVC encode. The film was shot on digital, and the resulting image on this disc is sharp and detailed throughout. Contrast tends to be high and colors bright, but it fits the movie's realistic color palette. The image quality is good throughout the film, but this transfer really comes alive when the Tournament of Legends begins.

    If Survivor's “Eye of the Tiger” from Rocky III is your favorite theme song, then you're in for a treat with this film, because you're going to hear it a lot and in your choice of four high quality sound mixes. Audio options on Fists of Legend include: Dolby Digital 5.1 in Korean with English subtitles, Dolby Digital English 5.1, Korean 2.0 with English subtitles and English 2.0. I watched the film in Korean 2.0 with English subtitles, and even in 2.0 the audio delivered a crisp, hard-hitting sound. Subtitles on the Korean tracks are white with a subtle black border, making them easy to read in any light condition, and were free of any spelling or grammatical errors. The quality of the voice-overs in the English dubs are good, with each of the voice actors well-suited to their characters.

    Extras on this disc include: The Living Legend, a 22-minute feature on the making of Fists of Legend, Cry of 3 Men, a short 7-minute feature on an original soundtrack recording, I'm the Best: a short video feature on a photo shoot for the movie's promotional posters, 19th Outing: a video from the premier of Fists of Legend. None of these extras are essential, but fans of the film will want to watch the making of feature, as it features outtakes from several of the fight scenes and interviews with the cast.

    The Final Word

    Fists of Legend is at its best when it focuses on the fighting instead of the drama, which drags the film down and makes it feel more bloated than it ought to be. At 131 minutes in length, Fists of Legend is a long watch for a sports drama, and even more so for a mixed martial arts movie that sells its reputation on fast and brutal fight choreography. However, the movie really delivers the action you would expect in its last act, and the final fight alone makes Fists of Legend worth recommending to fans of MMA, UFC, tournament fillms and sports dramas.


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    Comments 2 Comments
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      Good review, Christian. :D
    1. Christian Bates-Hardy's Avatar
      Christian Bates-Hardy -
      Thanks Mark!