Story: Choi Bae-dal (Yang Dong-kun) lives in Korea during the 40s. He has no perspective in life until one day he very
enthusiastically decides to join Japan's air force. Japan, which occupies Korea for quite some years already, is
eager to recruit as many Koreans as possible for sending them on kamikaze missions. Choi and his friend Chun-bae
(Jeong Tae-woo), however, had another idea of things. Before they are to be executed by the Japanese due to their
insubordination, they manage to flee. But during their escape Choi is beaten up and humiliated by Japanese general Kato
After Japan's loss of World War II Choi continues to live in Japan. He is getting insulted again, this time it's some Yakuzas who want to show him who's the boss around here, but Choi is saved by his old master Beom-su (Jung Doo-hong), who travels the country with a circus.
While Chun-bae earns some money with one of his gambling machine inventions, Choi helps Japanese women who are mistreated by american occupiers. He builds up a good reputation and along the way he also gets to know young geisha Yoko (Aya Hirayama).
However, Choi seems to be ill-fated. The local Yakuza kill his master Beom-su. Thereupon, Choi wanders into the mountains and being totally on his own undergoes a harsh training. When he returns he desires nothing less than to challange the best fighters of the country and to beat them. At the top there is no one else but Choi's old nemesis Kato.
Review: "Fighter in the Wind" is one of the best if not the best martial arts movie out of Korea for years or
ever. This being said, it's difficult to write a review about this film. We get a very well-done popcorn blockbuster
which is based on the true story of Choi Bae-dal, better known by his Japanese name Masutatsu Oyama, the creator
of famous Kyokushin-Karate. Most people don't know that this Japanese folk hero is actually a Korean hero, who
fought for his country and pride in his own way. As it is the case with most of such stories it is stretching over
several years, which makes the movie a bit disjointed at times. Moreover, one didn't take it too serious when it
comes to biographic accurateness. It's more that, based on Choi's real life, the filmmakers just wanted to create
an entertaining martial arts flick.
The movie starts to tell the story of Choi during World War II. Choi always remains in the center of events, however, interestingly enough his character sometimes seems a bit stupid, which gives the film a bitter taste. Whether it was the intention of the director to draw such a picture of Choi or not will remain unknown to those who don't want to dive deeper into Choi's biography somewhere else. Concerning "Fighter in the Wind" there is nothing to be learnt about Choi's past or his education.
Furthermore it always remains in the dark why Choi chooses the way of fighting. It just seems to be the only thing he learnt and knows. Although Choi seems to be limited in his thinking, he yet has his heart in the right place. Therefore it's easy for the viewer to sympathize with him and actor Yang Dong-kun imbues his character of subtle passivity, despite undeniable courage and fighting spirit with the necessary amount of credibility. It's just a shame that we never get to take a look into the head of this complex, yet at the outside simple human being.
Nevertheless, most likely it's his country Choi is fighting for. Thus, nationalism doesn't play a small part in this movie and the Japanese are portrayed as evil villians most of the time, natch. And still you can't blame the director, because at that time Japan occupied Korea! However, I can't subscribe to the opinion of some critics who say that Japanese are almost portrayed as fiends in the movie. Apart from some of the Japanese women, especially Yoko of course, there is also Kato who provides us with a more complex picture than what these critics want to make us believe. Kato remains the villian of the movie the whole way through, and still he has an unquestional strong sense for honour, which is supported by Masaya Kato's ("Aragami") well-done and charismatic performance. Nonetheless, we watch with satisfaction when he gets what he deserves, eventually.
Concerning the Americans... yes, they really don't come off well. They look way too dumb and stereotypically portrayed, so that you almost have to feel sorry for them.
Generally, Korean nationalism is only to be found in a subtle manner and even then it remains in realms of what's appropriate for a story of a national folk hero.
Every now and then "Fighter in the Wind" has to struggle with some pacing problems. Which is no surprise. Trying to sketch the life of an individual, the movie in general feels a bit dismembered. One example is the love story with Yoko, who is somewhat insignificant for the film, yet is well-portrayed by Aya Hirayama ("Waterboys"). The viewer would have liked to see more of this sideplot. It's the same with the story about Choi's stay at the family's house of the man he unintentionally killed in a fight. His road of atonement is a bit too short and the list of things that are merely introduced and then forgotten goes on and on.
Apart from that the film stands out with its great cinematography, especially the training sequences in the mountains look beautiful. Moreover, the events are always accompanied by a good soundtrack. On a side note, there is one specially great track, which nonetheless seems to be a bit out of place: "Illusive consensus" from Epica's "The Phantom Agony" CD. This is a must-buy CD for everyone who is a fan of melodic Metal without too much grunts. Even the more as the track feautured in this movie is the worst on the CD and that's saying something.
Back to topic and to the most important thing in the movie, of course: the fights. At least in a martial arts film they should always play a major part. And we don't get disappointed. Jung Doo-hong, who is also playing Beom-su, composes some great fight choreography once again, which is at the same time typical Korean, yet somewhat more elegant and with more martial arts style. Which means that there is not as much boxing as we are used to see from Korean action movies, but more real martial arts instead. Nevertheless, most of the fights are rather short, but to make up for it there are at least a dozen of them and they all are pretty pleasing to they eye thanks to a great style. Numerous freeze-ins, slow-motion or sudden bursts of speed hit the screen frequently, which also makes the viewer's adrenalin flow through his veins.
All in all the fights look very realistically, yet are also very impressive. Nobody chose the safe road and so the actors, especially main actor Yang Dong-kun have to endure quite some beating and also are allowed to show what they really got.
The truth factor of this "biography" is neglectable, as the movie had to make compromises in favor of the entertainment factor and the dramaturgy. Nevertheless, in return "Fighter in the Wind" actually is an entertaining movie and has enough dramatic scenes to move some viewers to tears.
Choi's character is captivating, yet he is somewhat inscrutable. Still, we happily accompany him on his path, and his motto he is living by gives us a hint why Choi is actually fighting: "Justice without power is empty, but power without justice is only violence."
Making no big deal about the fact that it merely wants to entertain, director Yang Yun-ho ("Libera Me") created a great martial arts film, that has to struggle with some flaws, yet proves to be very stylish and at times even extraordinary.
If I were to be asked to name a serious, recommendable Korean martial arts movie, there'd first be "Fighter in the Wind" popping up in my head.