Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Fantasia ’15: Big Match

Looking for a film that will give you sympathetic bruises and body aches? Sure, we all are, so here it is. Poor Choi Iko will go from one massive beatdown to another. Technically, that is his job as the top MMA contender, but he never signed up for this so-called “game.” Gameplay definitely leaves a mark in Choi Ho’s Big Match (trailer here), which screens today during the 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal.

Choi was briefly a promising soccer prospect, but after one notorious game and a pile of red cards, he found his true calling in the MMA ring. His older brother Young-ho is his coach, manager, and the closest thing to a voice of reason in his life. Therefore, when the shadowy Ace kidnaps Young-ho and frames the brothers for murder, Choi will reluctantly play his game.

For the wagering amusement of Ace’s select clientele, Choi will have to navigate the successive levels of the very real life game, starting with his escape from police custody. Things quickly escalate when he is forced to attack an underground mob casino single-handedly. Choi is undeniably a cement-head, but he is determined to take the fight to Ace, as soon as he saves his brother. He might also find an unlikely ally in Soo-kyung, his reluctant in-game minder.

If you thought the day would never come when K-pop superstar BoA would go to work on a pack of gangsters with a set of brass knuckles, then brace yourself for some good news. Granted, she never really taps into the inner recesses of her soul as Soo-kyung, “the woman of mystery,” but she is kind of awesome in her action scenes. Likewise, Lee Jung-jae plays Choi with all kinds of fierce guts. He almost looks to lean to be a top-ranked MMA fighter, but he turns out to be pretty credible dishing it out and taking it.

The pedestrianly titled Big Match might sound like a workaday recycling of elements from films like 13 Sins and Man of Tai Chi, but the sheer spectacle and intensity of the fight sequences are something else entirely. There are a few stunts that just border on the ludicrous, but they always result in conspicuous scarring, which sort of keeps it real. To put things in perspective, Choi is tased on multiple occasions, but each time he just takes a beat to center his chi and then gets back at ‘em.

This is the sort of film that converts the stiff and staid into fanboys. Usually, kidnapping plots are not a lot of fun, but in this case, all the mayhem and promised payback more than compensate. For action fans, Big Match is the real deal, raw egg-swilling goods. Highly recommended, it screens tonight (7/29), as part of this year’s Fantasia.