For years, my best friend has been badgering me to watch Warrior. At his behest, I added it to my Netflix queue, but it wasn’t until a few months ago (thanks to my wife’s obsession with Tom Hardy) that I finally watched it. The reason I put off watching it was because the story centered on MMA fighting, and that has never interested me.
My friends find it extremely odd since I usually love action movies, particularly of the martial arts variety. Although I may find myself more drawn to the stylized Wuxia variety, director Kang Woo-Suk brings something of a companion piece to Warrior from South Korea with his tale of friendship and honor, Fists of Legend.
Starting with the introduction of a fake TV show called “Legendary Punch,” Ms. Hong (Lee Yo-won) runs the show with the first Asian International Fighting Championships winner Jason providing color commentary. Each bout earns the winner $20,000 continuing upwards to $100,000 ,and now Ms. Hong has come up with the idea of pitting older contestants against each other after she catches wind of how badass Lim Deok-kyu (Hwang Jung-min) was back in high school. Back then they were known as “legends” and Ms. Hong knows he needs the money after his daughter gets into a fight at school.
The film then begins to flashback to his glory days (played by Park Jung-min) where he meet-cutes his then best friend Lee Sang-hoon (Goo Won playing the young counterpart to Yoo Jun-sang portraying him in the present) and Shin Jae-seok (Yoon Je-moon and Park Doo-sik). It’s after Lim gets cheated out of participating in the 1988 Olympics that his life spirals out of control leading him to a life as a poor noodle shop owner and an outcast daughter after his wife dies. Now Ms. Hong is propositioning Lim to fight on her new show, “Match of Legends,” against Lee with a grand prize of $200,000.
The only concern regarding Fists of Legend is in the editing department. I screened an unfinished print, and the flashback sequences take a while to make it clear that it’s not a parallel plotline. These scenes are never clear cut, and at first I thought the younger versions were children of their present counterparts. Aside from that, the film may run two and a half hours in length, but it flies by pretty quick. Like I said, it reminds me of a Korean version of Warrior, except this film has better action and a sense of humor.
Writer Jang Min-seok adapts the webtoon Legend Punch with some fleshed out characters bringing the necessary drama to the situation of best friends being pitted against each other to win a lot of money. Hwang and Yoo bring a sense of honor and humility to the adult roles while Park, Goo Won, and Yoon are having a blast playing the younger versions.
I still may not be sold on the whole UFC/IFC/MMA culture, but at least the films about them are being made with integrity. Fists of Legend may be filled with some truly brutal, yet fantastic fight scenes, but still comes out on top as a true crowd pleaser and is worth seeking out during its stateside release.