We continue “Foreign Film Week” with “The Art of Fighting.” My friend described it as the a the Korean “Karate Kid” with more violence and that is an apt description. It is better than “Karate Kid” in a few ways too. For one it doesn’t idealize fighting, it shows the reasons why someone would fight and what it takes to win a fight. From here we are introduced to the two complex protagonists who drive the story and each of their reasons they choose to fight.
“Art of Fighting” was directed by Shin Han-sol who was one of the writers along with Min Dong-hyun and produced by Lee Seo-yeol.
The story is about Byeong (Jae Hee) who is abused by Pako (Hong Seung-jin)and his gang at his technical high school and attempts to fight back only to beat down again and again. When he runs into a strange neighbor named Pan-su (Baek Yoon-sik) who is a fighter and possible ex-gangster who he convinces to train him. From here the story unfolds as his father tracks Pan-su and they deal with the threats from the gangs in the area.
The Pros: The Soundtrack – As someone who loves the soundtrack to fighting games like “Tekken.” There is a techno rhythm to many of the fight scene and montages and it adds a lot to the quality of the film.
The Action – The action is brutal and solid in this film, it reminds me a lot of an early Tarantino or Rodriguez film and it’s extremely raw. For example every fight is mortal and keeps going until a person is finally down. It’s doesn’t romanticize it because of how honest it is on how blood is part of a fight. This is one thing it really does well.
Pan-Su – The strange neighbor is a great character. He only starts training Byeong because Byeong is so insistent and is getting him free stuff. That is how their relationship starts with Byeong paying for all his meals and drinks but things change when Byeong shows how much he’s grown as a fighter and Pan-su has nothing for respect for him at the end realizing that Byeong now knows the cost of fighting (given that Pan-su is nearly killed by Paku and the Police).Baek Yoon-sik is wonderful in this role.
Jae-hoon – Jae-hoon is Byeong’s friends who ends up being killed by Pako because he stands up to Pako when the gang is picking on Byeong. His death is brutal but before that he is a really kind and tough guy who manages to beat one of the bullies a bit before Pako comes in. His death is a tragedy as he is someone just trying to look out for his friend. Park Ki-woong is wonderful in the role.
Byeong-tae – Jae Hee plays the main character in the film who is a man who lives in fear until he loses his best friend and is ready to use all the training Pan-su taught him. It’s a great process to watch and we see he is a stubborn kid who doesn’t give up no matter what he’s put through. He also doesn’t kill, which puts him above Pako and Pan-su. His arc is also reestablishing a relationship with his father which he is finally able to do when he has the confidence and stands up for himself against the bullies.
The Message – The message is that sometimes there is a time to fight (self-defense, defense of another) but you have to know the cost, people die (Jae-hoon) and get hurt (Pan-su) fights are never pretty and should always be a last resort. If you can scare your enemy and cause them to run away, that is what you do. That is one thing I really respected about this film. The message is great.
Okay/Cons – The Cinematography – The cinematography is very hit or miss. At times the camera felt like it was fogged over and things weren’t clear while other times it felt home video like. For this reason it is hard to put it as pro or truly okay since there are some okay filmed moments but other times the poor quality clashes with it.
The Cons: The Bullies and Gangs- The bullies were just thugs (like in “Karate Kid”) and really had no motivation. At least the bully in “Karate Kid” was abused by his mentor and father, the same cannot be said about Pako who is mostly just motivated for revenge since Byeong’s father was the one who put him in prison.
This was a good film, but not a favorite. I disliked how simple the bullies were and how they weren’t complex at all and at times it lagged because of it because the bullies got so much screen time. I also wish we’d gotten to know Pan-su more as he was the most compelling character in the film. The lack of backstory being fully explored since it was so focused on Byeong made the film good but not great. Byeong’s character wasn’t enough to carry the film to make it a favorite or a great film, still he wasn’t bad so it was good.
Final Score: 8 / 10.