Friday, April 25, 2008

Review | Fighter (2008)

Helmer Natasha Arthy's martial arts drama about a student torn between her Turkish family and her kung fu dreams.

Fighter (Denmark)
A Sandrew Metronome release of a Nimbus Film production, in co-production with Angel Film, Filmgear, Nordisk Film Shortcut, Blixt Kamera. (International sales: Delphis Films, Montreal.) Produced by Johnny Andersen. Executive producers, Brigitte Hald, Bo Ehrhardt. Directed by Natasha Arthy. Screenplay, Arthy, Nikolaj Arcel, Rasmus Heisterberg.

With Semra Turan, Cyron Melville, Xian Gao, Nima Nabipour, Molly Blixt Egelind, Behruz Banissi, Sadi Tekelioglu, Ozlem Saglanmak.
(Danish, Turkish, English dialogue)

The headstrong daughter of conservative Turkish immigrants in Copenhagen tries to meet her uneducated parents' high expectations while remaining true to her private passion -- kung fu -- in "Fighter." Quality teen drama boasts an appealingly feisty heroine and high-energy martial arts action choreographed by Xian Gao ("Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"). Fresh spin on cross-cultural romance and coming-of-age plotlines will compel fests to enter the ring. The first Danish action pic to employ international stunt and wire specialists, "Fighter" garnered enthusiastic reviews and healthy box office on Dec. 12 local release. Niche arthouse play, particularly in Europe and Asia, is conceivable.
High school student Aicha (engaging nonpro Semra Turan) is constantly on the run, literally and figuratively. Between familial duties and devotion to her sport, she has little time for schoolwork, and certainly none for a boyfriend. Although her traditional father forbids it, Aicha joins an elite kung fu club run by a strict Chinese sifu (Gao) who secretly admires her spunk. Males and females fight together, making Aicha slightly uncomfortable.

After advanced student Emil (agile heartthrob Cyron Melville) is ordered to practice with Aicha, the two gradually develop deeper feelings. An exhilarating extended montage of them training together, running and across roof tops, features breathtaking wire- and stuntwork.

Meanwhile, Aicha's older brother Ali (Nima Nabipour), a physician, hopes to marry Jasmin (Ozlem Saglanmak), a woman from a higher-status family; they're anxious that Aicha's immodest behavior not jeopardize the wedding. When Omar (Behruz Banissi), a friend of Jasmin's family, joins Aicha's class, the stage is set for disaster until Aicha learns to claim responsibility for her own choices.

Fine fight choreography furthers the emotional and dramatic development of the plot. The intensity of Aicha and Emil's feelings is convincingly portrayed through the physicality of their stylized matches, something more sensual than another awkward teen sex scene.

The graceful young actors, many nonpro with martial-arts experience, lend the story extra credibility. Gao has a commanding presence, despite very little dialogue.

Standout production design and cinematography convey apt visual corollaries for the heroine's lack of private time and space, surrounding her with constantly ticking watches, clocks and alarms. Aicha's recurring nightmare of fighting a masked ninja gets a sleek fantasy look that contrasts with the rest of the pic's grainy urban atmosphere.

Camera (color, 16mm-to-35mm, widescreen), Sebastian Wintero; editor, Kaspar Leick; music, Saqib, Frithjof Toksvig; production designer, Peter de Neergaard; costume designer, Susie Bjornvad; sound (Dolby SR); sound designer, Hans Moller; martial arts choreographer, Xian Gao; casting, Anja Phillip, Lena Paaske. Reviewed at Gothenburg Film Festival (Nordic competition), Jan. 31, 2008. (Also in Berlin Film Festival -- Generation 14plus). Running time: 97 MIN.