Hong Kong Digital
is a recurring series of movie reviews by John Charles -- a film
reviewer for Video Watchdog magazine and the author of The Hong
A Fighter's Blues
Amdy Lau Tak-wah. Image courtesy Mei Ah.
Touted as Andy Lau Tak-wah's 100th film (which it may well be -- who can keep count anymore?), A FIGHTER'S BLUES travels a well-worn road and is both corny and cloying but almost manages to squeak by, thanks primarily to gorgeous location work in Thailand.
Intira Jaroenpura. Image courtesy Mei Ah.
The film opens in 1987, with revered kickboxer Mong Fu (Lau) at the height of his prowess and the subject of a photographic and video profile by Thai freelancer Pim (Intira Jaroenpura, who played the title role in NANG NAK). We then jump ahead to the present day, with Fu back on the streets after serving a long stretch behind bars in HK. He returns to Thailand, in the hopes of finding Pim (who later became his lover), only to learn that she was murdered five years earlier by Golden Triangle drug dealers. Fu also discovers that he has a 14 year-old daughter named Ploy and journeys to St. Mary's Orphanage in Pattaya to find her. The beautiful Sister Mioko (Takako Tokiwa) takes him to the red light district where Fu runs across Ploy (Apichaya Thanalthanapong) hanging out with pickpockets and in trouble with some hoods. Naturally, their introduction does not go too smoothly but the pair gradually find some common ground and grow quite close. Ploy's boyfriend is an aspiring fighter and Fu offers him some instruction. However, at a school competition, the reason for Fu's prison sentence is made very public by a local coach: after a championship match, a distraught Fu (who had just broken up with Pim) killed his Thai competitor in the locker room. Naturally, the Thai boxing community is not happy to have him around and Ploy disowns him when she learns of what happened. Instead of running from his past, Fu decides to stay and even challenges Tawon (Niruj Soasudchart), the 24 year-old reigning champion, to a match. Along the way, we learn why Fu and Pim drifted apart, and that Mioko also has a less than saintly past.
Lau and Apichaya Thanalthanapong. Image courtesy Mei Ah.
Daniel Lee Yan-kong (BLACK MASK) has always been a director who seems to value visuals over everything else but much of A FIGHTER'S BLUES is genuinely beautiful, without the visual detritus sometimes apparent in his work. Takako Tokiwa often approaches Anita Yuen levels of bubbliness, and may be the least convincing cinematic nun since Mary Tyler Moore in A CHANGE OF HABIT, but remains pleasing to watch (and, of course, the writers come up with a loophole allowing her and Lau to fall in love), though she doesn't really bring anything to the part that any number of HK leading ladies couldn't have duplicated. Young Apichaya Thanalthanapong is quite appealing as Ploy (which makes it easier to accept that her character is going to behave exactly the way you expect her to), as is Jaroenpura during her brief screen time. Still looking great in middle age, Lau comes off convincingly during the match, in spite of the fact that much of the action is too tightly framed and / or over edited. Unfortunately, the majority of the picture finds him merely acting stoic and Fu never develops into the larger-than-life tarnished hero the movie needs for the viewer to truly become immersed and forgive the screenplay's extreme lack of ambition. For a more realistic look at the world of Muoy Thai, make a point of tracking down Lawrence Ah Mon's 1991 film DREAMS OF GLORY, A BOXER'S STORY. It is not only more dramatically sound than A FIGHTER'S BLUES but also offers a compelling portrait of just how deeply important this sport is to the Thai way of life.
Takako Tokiwa. Image courtesy Mei Ah.
Lau and Tokiwa. Image courtesy Mei Ah.