The film is based on the actual life of Korean Kyokushin Karate founder Choi Bae-dal, who immigrated to Japan after World War II to become a pilot. Instead, he ended up changing his name to Masutatsu Oyama, and became an unbeatable fighter.
The script tracks his first steps in Japan, where he ends up in a military training camp, along with Choon-bae, a friend who initially tried to con him. While there, they are treated harshly by the Japanese commander Kato, in a series of events that end up with Bae-dal fighting him one on one. He loses easily, but at that moment, the Americans bombard the base and the two Koreans escape.
Later on, the two of them operate a pachinko, but are once more, tormented by the Japanese, yakuza this time. They are saved by a fellow Korean named Beom-soo, who takes them in the circus he works, and starts training Bae-dal in martial arts. Bae-dal soon becomes something of a local hero as he defends Japanese women from American soldiers. Eventually he meets a girl, Yoko, and the two of them become a couple. However, his days of joy do not last for long, as the circus troupe ends up fighting local gangsters, and losing. Bae-dal then vows not to lose a fight again and starts training rigorously in the mountains. When he finishes, he proceeds on challenging every Japanese master in the country, in a series of events that bring Kato in his life once more.
Yang Yoon-ho directs a film that is a drama as much as it is a martial arts film. In that fashion, he highlights the oppression the Koreans living in Japan had to endure from the locals, in a life that usually became unbearable. Furthermore, the acting is on a higher level than the majority of similar productions, with Yang Dong-geun as Bae-dal, Jung Doo-hong as Beom-soo and Jung Tae-woo as Choon-bae giving competent performances.
This however, does not mean that the action element is placed in the background. To the contrary, the duels between the protagonist and the Japanese experts of various styles are impressive, despite their short duration, with their focus lying on realism. Jung Doo-hong has done a great job in that department.
Shin Ik-hyun's cinematography is also extraordinary, particularly during the training sequence in the snow and the various battles. Park Soon-deok's editing is accomplished, as it gives a frantic pace to the film during the various duels, and in contrast to the rest of the movie, where the pace is regular. Lastly, the depiction of the various eras is accurate and much concern has been given to the details that highlight each of them.
Context, drama, and adequate acting make "Fighter in the Wind" a unique entry in the martial arts genre, and one of its most impressive.
Review by Panos Kotzathanasis
Available on Blu-ray from YESASIA
Panos Kotzathanasis is a film critic and reviewer specialising in East Asian Cinema. He is the founder of Asian Film Vault, administrator of Asian Movie Pulse and also writes for Taste of Cinema, Eastern Kicks, China Policy Institute and Filmboy. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Panos Kotzathanasis can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.
"[Guest Film Review] "Fighter in the Wind""
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