You won’t be surprised to hear that a movie called “Fists of Legend” boasts plenty of hand-to-hand (and foot-to-body) contact. But the title of this overlong yet involving Korean actioner is a wink too. It refers to a fictional TV show that recruits middle-aged citizens to relive their high school fighting days in hyped-up mixed martial arts battles, all for the chance at fleeting reality fame and quick cash.
Lured to perform are three long-estranged buddies — noodle shop-owning widower and ex-boxer Deok-kyu (Hwang Jung-min), white-collar exec Sang-hoon (Yu Jun-sang) and small-time gangster Jae-suk (Yoon Jea-moon) — who must eventually come to grips with the toll violence has taken on their lives. Not dissimilar to Gavin O’Connor’s brutally great male weepie “Warrior,” director Kang Woo-Suk spins an epic swirl of masculine psychodrama over his many punishing fight sequences, including flashbacks to the trio’s origins as gifted scrappers who take one too many wrong turns.
But he also makes a handful of sage points about desperate times, the cycle of bullying and our modern culture of ratings-sanctioned aggression. Plus, Kang gets to have his cake too, when quiet hero Deok-kyu squares off for the show’s cameras against a roided-out monster — it’s a truly thrilling showdown, more than earning the film’s sentimental close.
“Fists of Legend.” No MPAA rating. Running time: 2 hours, 33 minutes. Playing at CGV Cinemas, Los Angeles.