Judge David Johnson is a fighter. On the weekends, he goes up against zoo animals for money.
Fight from the heart. Fight for your life.
"What's this?" you ask. "Not another underdog fighting movie starring a plucky young girl!" While there is formula here, Fighter is anything but generic.
Facts of the Case
We're in Copenhagen, where a high school girl named Aicha (Semra Turan) is determined to explore her kung fu sensibilities and join a well-known martial arts school. Unfortunately, Aicha is part of a conservative Muslim family and this kind of activity—trading chops and kicks with boys—is frowned upon. Plus she's got failing grades and an arranged marriage with a slack-jawed loser stressing her out.
Fighting gives her an outlet and when she fires up a forbidden, intense attraction with her non-Muslim sparring partner, her life gets a lot more complicated. But the girl has talent, her teacher sees it, and he invites her to participate in the requisite kung fu championships—balancing a new love for punching dudes in the throat, with the demands of her family. Culture will be her biggest challenge.
I wasn't super-excited to tackle this film. At first glance, everything about it just screamed "cliché." And I wasn't far off—there is a lot of familiar elements at work here. The culture-clash / my-conservative-parents-just-don't-seem-to-understand-my-peculiar-sporting-diversion was more or less imported from Bend It Like Beckham, and The Karate kid comparisons write themselves.
Fighter builds on these familiarities, but manages to put its own unique spin on them, resulting in a memorable take on the genre. This is a great little import. It feels genuine, has a great heart, and what it lacks in blatant originality, it more than makes up for in so many other areas.
The acting? Pitch-perfect, fronted by newcomer Semra Turan, who strikes a great mix between vulnerability (when it comes to her interactions with her family and her unsure footing with attraction to the opposite sex) and spirited assertiveness (squaring off with opponents in the ring and laying down the hammer with extreme prejudice). The supporting characters do their job well, bringing out different sides of Aicha, from the teacher who pushes her to excel athletically and her boy toy who accesses a previously untapped emotional vein, to her demanding father who consistently applies pressure.
The big kudos to Natasha Arthy, Nikolaj Arcel, and Rasmus Heisterberg's script which wisely avoids delving into predictability. Okay, yes, it's obvious Aicha is going to face off in the championship match with the obnoxious d-bag who's been giving her crap the whole movie, but the outcome may not be what you expect. Also, the familial relations storyline—and the boyfriend/girlfriend stuff—aren't reconciled as Hollywood would dictate, which leaves Fighter all the better for it.
Last thing: the actual fighting is pretty cool, as all the participants most definitely know what they're doing with the choreography.
The DVD: 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen is gritty and dark (a stylistic choice that works), supplemented by a 5.1 surround (Turkish/Danish with English subtitles) mix. A making-of featurette and a TV spot are the extras.
Fighter is good stuff. Check it out, even if you're tiring of this kind of film.
Whatever's Turkish for "Not Guilty."
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