February 21, 2015

Fighter in the Wind: Korean Karate to Bust a Gut

Much is made of the difference between laughing with and and laughing at. I, for one, have gotten much pleasure from both. And really, is it so terrible to laugh at when the cause of the laughter is melodramatic acting, ludicrous dialogue, lachrymose gestures, symbolic shadow-play, ridiculously ritualized foreplay, heavy metal hairdos, battling facial expressions and a main character who comes across like a science experiment for which a Neanderthal brain was genetically cloned then lodged into the body of a Korean martial artist stuck in Japan? Aren't I allowed to laugh at Fighter in the Wind and not feel bad about it? Can't I go so far as to recommend it as an unintentional comedy without coming across as mean?

What's not so funny is that Fighter in the Wind is based on a true story. (Or at least a novel inspired by a true story.) There really was a guy named Choi (Yang Dong-kun) who came to Japan from Korea in order to join the airforce then went on to found one of the leading karate styles in the world. (His book What Is Karate was a bestseller in the U.S. in the '60s!) But Fighter in the Wind isn't that interested in sticking to the facts. This version of Choi falls in love with a geisha (Aya Hirayama), not the daughter of his landlady, and trains in the woods Rocky IV-style (with no mention of the Japanese sponsor who made the retreat possible and encouraged him to shave off his eyebrow).

I'm particularly bummed that the bit about the eyebrow didn't make it into the movie. But credit writer-director Yang Yun-ho for setting part of the action in a circus, having a black-clad antagonist (Park Seong-min) with one eye, and a workout buddy (Jung Doo-hong) with a hook for a hand. Historical accuracy isn't the point here. And with easily over a dozen fight sequences, you're unlikely to get bored either. You could call it a Grindhouse Classic.

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