Unrated (martial-arts violence); 150 min.
South Korean cinema has been acclaimed for its bleak horror films and crime thrillers, less so for martial-arts films like Fists of Legend. Yet, true to its Korean roots, Fists has an intriguing dark side. More than a display of kinetic athleticism, it's a veiled commentary on corporate and cultural conformity.
Lim Deok-kyu (the sad-eyed Hwang Jung-min), Lee Sang-hoon (Yu Jun-sang) and Shin Jae-suk (Yoon Jea-moon), known for their fighting skills in high school, are three 40-something former friends recruited by a ruthless reality show that pits middle-aged men against each other in a mixed-martial-arts showdown. Each has something to prove: Lim was an Olympics boxing hopeful who threw it all away and now is a single dad running a failing noodle shop, Lee was the best fighter in Gangnam but now is in the corporate world working for an extremely sadistic boss, and Shin was a street fighter who became just a low-level hood with no future.
They have to fight each other, and other assorted goons, as well as their demons. While the latter gives the movie more depth than the average Jackie Chan film, director Kang Woo-suk certainly knows his way around an MMA cage, especially in the final, bruising match between Lim and a mob-backed opponent known as The Turtle.
At 2 1/2 hours, Fists of Legend goes on too long. But Kang Woo-suk's take on a genre often relegated to the level of cartoon is a refreshing change of pace.
In Korean with English subtitles.
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-- Cary Darling