Nope, one of Jet Li's best movies didn't get a re-release. But stick around anyway, because Kang Woo-suk's Fists of Legend (2013) is a cut above your average, run-of-the-mill action movie. Truth be told, it's only part action, as the story revolves around former high school friends Lim Deok-kyu (Hwang Jung-min), Lee Sang-hoon (Yoo Jun-sang) and Shin Jae-seok (Yoon Je-moon); all three were known for their fighting ability but eventually went their separate ways. Lim, who once trained for the 1988 Olympics, now owns a small, unsuccessful restaurant. Lee, originally the most privileged of the three, treads water as a successful but submissive television executive. Shin, undoubtedly the loose cannon of the original group, moonlights as a low-level gangster. Their unlikely reunion comes in the form of "Legendary Fighter", a popular new TV show that pits older competitors against established MMA fighters for cash and prizes.
More often than not, Fists of Legend is better than its generic title and convoluted plot synopsis suggest. Essentially, this story devotes a lot of time to the fighters in question through plenty of supporting characters, small interactions and lengthy flashbacks. Lim, our central character, is a single father raising a tough teenage girl, while his unsuccessful push for Olympic glory reveals a man humbled by unfair authority figures. Lee's pushy boss shows that office politics might cause almost anyone to seek out some sort of stress relief. Shin's hot temper and unpredictable nature are his most noticeable traits, but his loyalty and cocky attitude also work in his favor. Of course, they aren't the only featured players here: ruthless TV producer Hong Gyu-min (Lee Yo-won) pulls plenty of strings behind-the-scenes and, of course, other competitors like Choi Joong-Man AKA "Mr. Turtle" stand in their way. The fight scenes are well done and the drama is...well, hit-or-miss (especially near the middle), bit there's definitely some brains behind the brawn here.
All told, this ambitious action/drama hybrid clocks in at 156 minutes, almost twice as long as your average action flick. Most viewers will probably wish it was about half an hour shorter...but either way, Fists of Legend occasionally feels like two separate movies fighting for attention. Small sub-plots could've been easily trimmed with minimal impact on the end product, even though the tension built during the first two hours lets the final tournament feel that much more important. Still, I'd imagine that almost anyone who watches Fists of Legend more than once will have their fingers on or near the "Chapter Skip" button, ready to get right to the good stuff. CJ Entertainment's Blu-ray offers a reasonable amount of support, pairing a strong technical presentation with a modest but enjoyable mixture of bonus features.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, the digitally-shot Fists of Legend looks perfectly fine in 1080p; quite impressive, on some occasions. Black levels are consistent, the film's stylized color palette looks good and close-ups reveal a strong amount of image detail. No flagrant digital issues, including noise reduction and compression artifacts, were spotted along the way. Considering the film's length, the complexity of several crowded fight sequences and the even mixture of naturally-lit and "TV production" footage, this is a really good-looking disc that fans should be more than pleased with.
DISCLAIMER: The screen captures featured in this review are strictly decorative and do not represent Blu-ray's native 1080p image resolution.
Viewers are given four different options here, including DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio and PCM 2.0 tracks, each available in either the original Korean (with forced English subtitles) or an English dub. These are not dubtitles, though the dialogue is almost identical in the handful of spots I checked...and no matter your preference, it's nice to have both options available. I'll admit that the English dub has a much goofier and over-the-top vibe, which may provide a completely different atmosphere if you commit to this option. I stuck with the original Korean track for obvious reasons, but both offer a substantial amount of surround presence and plenty of thunderous LFE during the hard-hitting fight sequences.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
The standard menu interface is clean, intuitive and nicely designed. Chapter selection, setup and bonus feature sub-menus are included and this disc appears to be locked for Region A players only. No inserts or slipcover are included with the standard keepcase packaging. But hey, at least it's not one of those "eco-friendly" monstrosities, right?
Four brief Featurettes
are included (4-22 minutes apiece) that cover the film's production, fight choreography, music, both "sets" of cast members and footage from the South Korean premiere. Not surprisingly, the director, principal cast and various crew members make interview appearances along the way. This isn't a bad little selection of featurettes, though I'm surprised that the dub session isn't covered. All four are presented in Korean with forced English subtitles.
Fists of Legend kind of took me by surprise, both for its ambitious character-driven narrative and the complex, kinetic fight sequences. The humor is also balanced nicely. Yet the film overstays its welcome a bit and some of the personal drama feels more than a little overcooked: at two hours or less, Fists of Legend would've definitely made a stronger impact. Still, CJ Entertainment's Blu-ray is a solid effort, pairing a strong technical presentation with a modest but enjoyable mix of bonus features. Recommended for fans of the genre, though a rental might be enough for some.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.