Rocky Eats Kimchi and Thinks White People Smell Like Milk
2004, South Korea
Over the past few years, South Korea has really been the shining jewel in the cinematic crown of the Orient. Wait, do Orientals even wear crowns? Is it racist for me to assume that they would follow the same patterns of cultural symbolism as the Western world? Should I pick a metaphor more sensitive to their societal differences, something specific to Asia, like the wet spot on their soiled school-girl underpants, or the ‘r’ in their mispronunciation of ‘linguistics’? Well, whatever it is that they value in that crazy land of jade dragons and dog meat, South Korea was the apex of their filmic achievement. Hong Kong has long since devolved into action film self-parody, Japan is still struggling with making films that aren’t as stiffly formal as Alfred Pennyworth serving mid-afternoon tea to the Planter’s Peanuts mascot, and China is too busy swelling into a fearsome superpower to bother with making movies not about working hard in sweatshops or the joys of eating white rice and broth for 65 years of unrewarding hard labor. Korea, then, has picked up the ball cinematically, and more often than not, they’ve scored a touchdown, or a basket, or an aggregate, or whatever the hell it is illiterate people do when they’ve exhausted the puzzles on the back of Cheerios boxes and have to spend the rest of their Sunday playing sports to avoid forgetting to breath.
This time, however, the ball has been dropped. Either that, or it was rolled by a dung beetle, because this movie is awful. It’s nothing more than Rocky for people raised on Ultimate Fighting Championship videotapes, unused to seeing fights that don’t end in compound leg fractures. Merely by replacing Sylvester Stallone with an equally emotionless lump of muscle, and molding the structure to fit the more aimless constraints of a bio pic, Fighter in the Wind has managed to preserve the painful stupidity and maudlin sentiment of Rocky while telling the story of a real life Korean hero, Choi Bae-Dal. Born in Korea but trained in Japan, Bae-Dal became a master martial artist, defeating hundreds of opponents around Japan with the aid of a rigorous training regimen focused on self-discipline and montage sequences. The movie is predictable and corny, the only surprise being that Eye of the Tiger is not featured more prominently. There is, however, a ridiculous sequence in which Bae-Dal fights a bull. Apparently, this is a true anecdote, but it doesn’t make it any less stupid.
Rocky's most worthy opponent.
What’s more interesting is that this is a movie that purports to portray a Korean national hero, but Bae-Dal was anything but. He left Korea as soon as he could, changed his name to Masutatsu Oyama, which is as Korean as cannoli, and founded his famous Karate Organization in Tokyo, before it was destroyed by Mothra. I guess it was time for the mysterious East to make their own Cinderella Man, or the sports version of Ladder 49, dubbing over every instance of ‘great American hero” with the name of their particular country of origin. It seems that Asian cinema has completed its transformation from original, culturally specific filmmaking to weak imitations of American feel-good films that play more like unintentional parodies than the homages they’re clearly intended to be. The conquest of the world by Hollywood studio heads and New York bankers seems to be complete. Soon, all vestiges of recognizable international cinemas will be erased, and all we’ll be left with to separate one pack of movie clones from the next will be the racist jokes we start off our reviews with. And then, my freelance career will finally kick into high gear. That, my friends, is enough for me to give Fighter in the Wind two thumbs up.