Tuesday, August 06, 2013

King of the Streets: Redemption Leaves a Serious Mark

Yue Feng’s specialty is facing down large gangs of lead pipe wielding toughs.  He is so good at it, he has done time.  There is a reason they used to call him “the Street Fighter.”  He would like to put his old life behind him, but obviously that is not going to happen.  Billed as China’s first mixed martial arts movie, writer-action director-lead actor-co-director-co-editor Yuen Song & co-director Zhong Lei bring it old school in The King of the Streets (trailer here), which is now available on DVD and Blu-ray from Well Go USA.

Yue Feng has just been released from prison, but the death of a rival gang member still troubles his conscience.  Yes, the punk had it coming, but he is a sensitive street fighter.  Resolving to go straight, he takes a job with a moving company.  While delivering some donated equipment to a private orphanage, Yue Feng meets Li, an attractive volunteer.  She has a few moves herself, but nothing like the Street Fighter.  Soon, he is volunteering regularly.  At first, he is just helping out with the kids and lifting heavy things, but soon he is fighting off the hired muscle trying to run the orphanage off its prime piece of real estate.

King, the throwback throwdown, mixes generous helpings of no holds-barred street melee with old fashioned melodramatic angst.  It is impossible to miss Yue’s themes of redemption and loyalty, but he sure can mix it up.  To be fair, he also develops respectable romantic chemistry with Becki Li. Yue’s fellow professional fighters Hou Xu, Kang En, Yang Jianping, and the Chang Long Stunt Team also clearly know how to give and take a punch.  Nobody was really hired for the acting chops (except maybe Li), but so be it.

Almost entirely staged in abandoned warehouses and back alleys, Yue’s film has a Spartan vibe and a dramatic simplicity that is frankly rather aesthetically appealing.  Co-cinematographers Liu Zhangmu and Li You earn style points with the black-and-white flashback interludes, while consistently maintaining an icy slick look.

While not exactly Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, King’s gritty action and earnest, straight forward delivery is likely to make it a sentimental favorite for genre fans.  Kind of awesome in a low budget, rough around the edges, doggedly striving sort of way, The King of the Street is recommended for meatheads with heart.  It is now available on DVD, Blu-ray, and VOD from Well Go USA.