"Fighter in the Wind" (aka. Baramui Paito, 2004) is the story of Choi Bae-dul, a real-life legendary martial arts figure who, during his peak, defeated hundreds of martial arts experts in Japan and around the world, or to be more precise, the film is based on the manga (Japanese comic) based on the martial artist's life. Choi Bae-Dul or otherwise known as Matsutatsu Ayama fought more than 270 fighters and most of them were beaten with a single blow; his fights never lasted for more than three minutes. Choi Bae-Dul was dubbed as the `GODHAND', a living, breathing manifestation of the Japanese warrior maxim `ichi geki hissatsu' (one strike, certain death) and this style embodied his belief as the supreme level of Karate. Bae-Dul was also known for his powerful kicking strength. Choi Bae-Dul also fought and won 300 successive matches in the Kumite during his later years. He is also the founder of Kyo Kushin karate, a style that millions of students still practice today.
Much of the film takes place during World War II and is set in Japan. The first half of the film follows the adventures of a young Choi Bae-Dul (Yang Dong-Geun), whose desire to become a pilot takes a side-winding nose dive when death and humiliation destroy his dreams. He stows away in a freighter to Japan to become an aviator. Choi Bae-Dul has experienced many hardships as a Korean in Japan, much of it is discrimination. After experiencing a devastating humiliation at a marketplace, he is tagged as the "pant-wetter" and he is aided by a fellow Korean who trains him in the martial arts. Things aren't as simple for a Korean in Japan, and when his master is killed by the Yakuza during a melee, Choi becomes more resolved in learning KARATE. Greatly influenced by the tales of the samurai warrior, Miyamoto Musashi, he embarks on a training regiment in the mountains to develop his own unique form of Karate. Choi Bae-dul, now in top physical condition, travels all around the country, roams around by foot, train or whatever to reach his destination; his goal is to challenge and defeat opponents of different styles and origins.
Having been based off a manga, "Fighter in the Wind" is a more stylized and glossy portrayal of the real-life experiences of Choi. It is definitely more of a popcorn action film, abandoning any elements of a docudrama in place of romance, action, and subtle melodrama to create an entertaining experience. The film uses an almost "cardboard template" of Chinese martial arts films such as "Fist of Legend". A young Choi is humiliated, taken in by a martial arts master and when he is killed, young Choi becomes even more adamant in his practice of Karate using the life of Miyamoto Musashi as his guide in this journey. Choi's tribute to his master would be to avenge his death by proving that a Korean can be the best fighter in the world.
"Fighter in the Wind" may not be a real biography but it does capture the spirit of the achievements of Choi Bae-Dul. While the film may not be 100 % accurate, it does carry a certain amount of sentimentality that gives the story an epic-like atmosphere that makes it almost larger than life. It successfully re-enacts his humanity, myths and legends. Director Yoon Ho-Kang is able to blend the hard-hitting martial arts action with the story of young man who overcomes racial oppression through the use of his fist, achieving brotherhood and friendship through combat. The film also brings certain matters of pride into exposition; the Japanese masters hates the fact that a Korean is being compared to Miyamoto, Japan`s greatest swordsman by the media. It is most interesting that the Japanese folk who doesn`t know Choi show nothing but contempt towards the young man, while those who get to know him, develop nothing but fondness, respect and adoration towards him.
The media is shown in the form of comedic radio announcers, that chronicles Choi`s journeys and triumphs much like a cheering chorus in Greek times. It was quite clever for the direction to show qualities of an epic film through its soundtrack while maintaining the subtle feel of a comic book. The first half of the film is more bent on its melodramatic elements, then it makes more of a comic-like transition as we see Japanese teenagers imitating Choi, his mannerisms and unkempt look--even his worn out, white Karate Gi looks identical to the one Ryu wears in the "Streetfighter" video games. His training montage also proves to be the film's major selling point. This cartoon-like transition is strange, but doesn't hurt or strengthen the film in any way.
Yoon Ho-Kang is able to display some hard-hitting KARATE action with the use of quick editing tricks, some use of slow-motion; he keeps the movie at a brisk pace. The thing I loved about this film is that no wires, CGI were used in its extensive fight choreography. It is well-staged, realistic and a bit brutal, although not as hard-hitting as Tony Jaa`s "Ong-bak" or "TOM YUM GOONG". The fights aren`t long or well-drawn out with its action shots but it is a fitting testament to the description of this Karate master as I have elaborated in my opening paragraph; "one strike, certain death". Choi encounters practitioners of Kendo, Ninjitsu, Karate, Judo, Kung Fu from different dojos as he fights his way to supremacy; if Choi gets to you, it was over.
Korean actor Dong-Kun Yang does an excellent job in his portrayal of Choi Bae-Dul while Masayo Kato (Aragami) develops a unique kind of chemistry with Yang as Choi's life-long rival from the times during the war as to the final fight to determine who is the best in Japan. Beauteous Aya Hirayama plays Choi's love interest. One might say that the woman is Choi`s anchor in life, she keeps him human and she makes him want to be truly worthy of her love.
Despite some minor flaws such as minor displays of smugness, director Yoon Ho-Kang is able to make a credible re-telling of the life of a man who has been hailed as one of the best fighters in the world. He does a superb job in blending and putting everything together. This popcorn action film may not bring all the facts of Choi's life into exposition but nothing gets in the way of its excellent storytelling. "Fighter in the Wind" is one of the best martial arts films to come along and the film is definitely better acted with superior storytelling than most recent films in this genre. The music/soundtrack also fits the film and makes it feel more intense while instilling an epic-like melancholy. All the elements complement each other to give us a very entertaining action film.
The film is able to express emotion without overdone sentimentality, definitely dramatic but never becomes a sissy, with awesome fight choreography to balance its melodramatic elements; the film manages to adapt the needed screenplay to tell the story of a man who challenges the world and triumphs. Of course, no one can tell an accurate film about a man in a measly two hours. "Fighter in the Wind" makes for a winning attempt though. It is grand storytelling at its best; you will be amused, touched, and awed with the martial arts sequences.
Highly Recommended! [4- Stars]