Normally I do not leap at the opportunity to watch or review karate or street fighting films because in large part, what you see is what you get. But occasionally I dip my toe in the water to see how things have changed from the days when my Saturday mornings would consist of kung-fu movies and professional wrestling while eating a French bread pizza for lunch. What can I say, I was easy to please as a child.
Which brings us to The King of The Streets, billed as China's first street-fighting movie. The eponymous King is Yue Song, who is a martial artist and plays Yue, a streetfighter who was young and brash until a competition resulted in an opponent's death and his imprisonment. He is released after almost a decade and is calmer and more peaceful, and even appears willing to take on a menial job working under two men who berate him at every opportunity. Eventually, like Michael Corleone he finds himself brought back into the fighting world that we wanted to rid himself of, fighting to help save a financially threatened orphanage among other actions to redeem himself.
Song also wrote the film and co-directed with Zhong Lei, and in terms of telling a story it is certainly different to an extent from those that have been told before. Yue's destiny is fighting whether he wants to admit it or not, and the roadblocks thrown in front of him are decent to sit through. His having to put up with abuse from two movers, one of whom talks all kinds of smack about how tough a street fighter he was (when Yue actually went through those surroundings and actually WAS as tough as his boss talked), is done well. One sequence with a broken computer monitor in the orphanage is told decently, and the cumulative events help convey some sympathy with Yue. When Yue decides he is going to be a badass though, he engages that gear quite nicely. The fighting scenes are fine and hardly earth shattering in any way. But Yue carries the film and does it with charm and toughness when the latter is called upon, even if at a quick glance, he looks eerily like veteran comic actor Brian Tochi.
The character arc of Yue is not bad, until you get to the third act that tries to do more for Yue's character than Yue the screenwriter lays out in development. It seems to be evident early on that Yue's fighting is something that proves to be something that will lead to his demise somehow, but his awareness of this would have been better explained to impart any real resonance of the character. It was not a fatal flaw, but including it would have been a nice enhancement to a solid performance by him and the rest of the ensemble.
Ultimately, The King of The Streets tells a story that has generally been seen before, featuring a guy who could possibly do some notable things down the road if he came to the West, or even took his talents to Japan or Korea where a wider audience could lead to eventual Western cinema notoriety. The film does little to distinguish itself from similar films before or (likely) since, but the potential for Yue Song to breakout is appealing at the least.
The film comes to Blu-ray in an AVC-encoded 1.78:1 widescreen presentation, and it certainly exposed me to areas of Asia that I would not have seen before? Image detail is a tad inconsistent, though when present it appears to come out in spades, with facial pores and clothing fibers easily discernible. In the flashback sequences though, things are a bit softer and black levels tend to be more inconsistent and do not provide as good a contrast as they may otherwise. There are also occasional moments of image haloing that distracts. All in all though, the disc looks okay, it just could have looked better.
Well, the Mandarin DTS HD-MA 5.1 surround track (with English subtitles) attempts to use the method of stumbling into your home theater with a lot of power rather than doing things more effectively. Most of the punching and kicking in the fight sequences include some form of low end from the subwoofer. In quieter dialogue-driven moments, the soundtrack is fine, with the conversation occurring in the front of the soundstage. Channel panning and directional effects are present and help set up a sonically immersive environment for the film to tell its story.
Aside from the trailer and some previews, nothing else.
If one looks for a diversion from their usual cinematic diet, The King of The Streets may provide it with an intriguing lead in a less than intriguing story. Technically the disc is not too shabby and the bonus material is barren. Otherwise, it is worth a rental for anyone looking for a change of pace action film.