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Review: High school fighting days relived in ‘Fists of Legend’

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.

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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.

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“Fists of Legend.” No MPAA rating. Running time: 2 hours, 33 minutes. Playing at CGV Cinemas, Los Angeles.

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