Friday, 15 April 2011

The Fighter

Talk about dramas hitting the UK cinemas. The King’s Speech has broken box office records – reaching Harry Potter levels of attendance in the UK – and audiences lined up to see The Social Network, 127 Hours, and this year’s superb boxing movie The Fighter, all based on true stories.

Firstly, a boxing movie yawns ‘boring’ to me but after this film I have learnt to not knock it till I try it. The Fighter is a touching and dramatic story, based on a real life account; about boxer Micky “Irish” Ward’s (played by Mark Wahlberg) voyage to the world light welterweight title from the suburb of Lowell, Massachusetts.

It takes you on the journey and one of his toughest fights he took with his drug-dependent, criminal of a half-brother Dicky (Christian Bale), a thought to be hero for defeating Sugar Ray Leonard - who is very unreliable - in the blue corner, and mother/manager, Alice (Melissa Leo), a stubborn money-grabbing mother of nine in the red corner. Dicky is an unreliable boxer-turned-trainer who is nearly KO’d by the harsh aspects of working class American life, until he decides to sort himself out and help his brother.

His family is all about his money and fame rather than his success and accomplishment. It is not until he meets former athlete, college dropout barmaid Charlene (Amy Adams) that he regains his will and punch out all the stops to win and to stand up against his domineering family – not to mention his six (or seven?) sisters.

Throughout the film we see hints of a mockumentary on the life of Dicky’s crack addiction, for which he seems to imagine is all about his comeback in the boxing ring. After a while on the streets of Lowell Dicky manages to get in a fight with police and get himself arrested. Micky, being the supportive brother Dicky wasn’t to him all the time, he stands up for him and pays the price in the form of a broken hand. As you can imagine these two incidents has stalled his progress and makes him a punch-bag for bulkier opponents; giving him more of a reason to give it one last shot for the big time win.

It has to be said how committed Christian Bale is to his role with his drastic weight loss leading to a wiry frame and thinning hair; and how much it paid off. Bale is just an absolute delight to see on screen and his performance is captivating in many ways. He basically robs every other co-star of the screen with his magnetic performance. Although Wahlberg may be the main character and does give a solid and superb performance which with all due respect, Bale tops him with the most charismatic sport persona in the film.
It’s noticeable that any time Bale is absent from proceedings The Fighter suffers. However, Wahlberg and Bale are incredible together; they leave an intense mark in this film with their brilliant chemistry.

Wahlberg brings this aura of a ground-breaking and compelling attitude with his towering performance as this small town, big muscled fighter. Being one of the youngest of a nine member American family with Irish ancestry, as well as having his father, Donald Wahlberg who had been imprisoned years ago alongside Micky's dad, George Ward. Just to top it all off, Wahlberg has a very violent history and drug habit so can put himself in the shoes of both Micky and Dicky. These similarities helped the choice of Micky become very easy and what a good decision that was. The deep portrayal of a troubled young man is conveyed magnificently through the character.

A film full of male testosterone leaves little room for the female roles, in any other typical film but not this one. The women a have remarkable influence in Micky’s journey. From his level headed red head girlfriend (Adams) and his disapproving mother. Leo is fantastic, with her well-crafted ad superbly performance; she deserves every inch of her 2011 academy award. Adams on the other hand, equally as astonishing but on completely different levels. While she plays this cliché “against all odds” character, she has entire control and executes her support for Micky and disregard for his family tremendously.

Although conforming to a Rocky-style template, as it has been compared to, The Fighter is as much a family drama as traditional boxing movie and is all the richer and more entertaining for it, with an ensemble cast of highly memorable characters. Both films do evolve around working class men trying to accomplish a life in boxing, although are better known for taking punishment and beating rather than wining matches. It emphasises on the gritty working class America in the 80’s and 90’s with the pressures to have The American Dream, whatever that dream may be. Then the cliché trials and tribulations, how they end up with an once-in-a-lifetime chance at a title shot and to be fair it wouldn’t be a good character study if there wasn’t good news at the end.

The conventional story of a low-point boxer getting ferocious beatings in the ring to a temporary abandonment of the sport, to then giving it one last try and finally getting somewhere; to get the win they deserve at the end of all the turmoil. This immediately makes the film less interesting but with all the hype I had to see it and am glad I did. Just like in 127 hours, whenever there's a film based on real people, it's practically a law now to show a celebratory photograph of these real people over the closing credits. They are recognisable as the real deal, though obviously not as attractive as the stars playing them. I feel this adds to the real authenticity of the film and realisation that it’s not just a film but was someone’s life story. O. Russell turned it into a riveting, inspirational and absorbingly entertaining film. He combines essences of both emotionally drained and powerfully strong to create a memorable and worthwhile film.
Result: A knockout of pure power and emotion. A triumph for O. Russell.

Kung Fu Hustle

The first 10 minutes amazed me with humour and confusion. There was a Chinese cowboy and a dancing ‘Axe Gang’; to top it all of a gay barber who constantly has his arse showing throughout the film.
The film is based around the storyline of a wannabe gangster, Sing, in 1940’s China, Shanghai to be exact, aspiring to join this notorious (dancing) “Axe Gang”. All while the residents of a housing complex, entitled Pig Sty Alley, exhibiting extraordinary powers in defending their territory; caused by Sing (Stephen Chow) and his chubby side-kick Bone’s actions. It is ruled by these rather eccentric landlord and landlady (Qui Yuen), who turn out to be some of the greatest kung-fu masters in disguise. Sing manages to inadvertently involving the Axe Gang and the ‘slumlords’ to engage in an explosive kung-fu battle. He then must defend the slum from The Beast (Sui-Lung Leung) who is employed by the Axe Gang, who he humiliated, to defeat them and get revenge. Sing fetches this kung-fu master and killer from jail; little does he know he will cause even more conflict. But there can only be one side that can win, one male protagonist that can emerge as the greatest king-fu master.
Qui Yuen too is skilled in Chinese martial arts; she studied under the same master as Jackie Chan and Samma Hung Kam-Bo. She plays a magnificent moody landlady with hidden talent and beauty. Her power is kind of humorous in the sense of being from a woman character. You’ll have to watch or read up about it to find out; I don’t want to ruin anything.
Stephen Chow is a very talented man; not only can he act, he can direct, write and has amazing kung fu skills. He is quite commonly known for Shaolin Soccer; for which he wrote, directed and starred in, as well as for King Fu Hustle. Both movies contain Kwok-Kwan Chan, Chi Chung Lam and Kai Man Tin. The chemistry between Stephen Chow and all these actors on screen is obvious they are confident with each other, giving more advantages to the films authenticity and acting.
The fight sequences are very well done with its’ many areas of computer graphics and keep the movie moving at a frantic and exciting pace. Chow excellently combines the fight scenes and graphics together without distracting from each other and enhancing the martial arts action. The humour and action are executed very well alongside each other in order to get the viewer both enticed in the story line and entertained through absurdity.
All in all this film had me enticed as most of the comedy was visual. The plot is simple enough that even the most ardent haters of subtitles, like me, won't mind the language barrier. Made me both chuckle and stare in awe; exactly what a good action comedy should do. There are many pop culture references in there like reservoir dogs and the matrix. All done very tongue in cheek. Just to top it off, they throw a very slight love story in for the romantic touch.
Result: A comical 7/10 for this brilliant sub-titled action, adventure comedy. I recommend it and am thoroughly looking forward to the 2nd film to come in 2012. A real martial arts cult classic.