March 30, 2014

Fists of Legend: Their Friendship Has a Fighting Chance

Fists of Legend has a great central premise -- a reality show in which middle-aged men fight each other and professional mixed martial artists in an attempt to reclaim the "legendary" status they once had as teens. Some win; most get their asses whupped. It's a concept so good that you'd think the movie was based on an already-existing, internationally franchised TV series. Au contraire, the screenplay is based on a popular Korean webtoon. Such humble beginnings! Perhaps a reality TV series lies ahead? Let the network bidding wars begin... In the meantime, actors Hwang Jeong-min, Yu Jun-sang and Yun Jae-moon bring a certain reality to the pseudo-sports event -- and the back stories that lead to the squared circle -- with naturalistic performances weighted by the disappointment that comes from being halfway through a life that you're only experiencing halfway.

Hwang's character is the owner of an unsuccessful noodle shop; Yu plays an overlooked publicist for a construction company; Yun, a tattooed ex-con. Way back in the day, they were The Three Musketeers -- one an Olympian contender; another the toughest kid at school; the final, the toughest kid at that school's rival. The only one in their crowd to have succeeded -- the fourth musketeer played by Jung Woong-in -- has evolved from spoiled rich kid to unscrupulous business magnate whose abuse of wealth and power has only gotten worse over time.

Bullied by a television producer (Lee Yu-won) who should be someone's love interest but isn't, the three non-rich, now-estranged friends are recruited for a mega-match of middle-aged mixed martial artistry that promises $200,000 for the winner (and ratings galore for the struggling producer). Through a series of flashbacks -- ironically, better acted than the present-day scenes -- you learn why the friendships fell apart and see what dreams were crushed along the way. The takeaway? Big-eared Hwang and his pouty young counterpart Park Jung-min were the coolest then and now. But does the most likable character win? This is a Korean movie after all. You'll have to watch it to see.

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