Fantastic Fest 2008: Fighter

, Associate Editor, News

Fighter is one of those rare films that combines excellent martial arts action sequences, credible storytelling and terrific character stories. Dealing with issues that rock families all around the world, sometimes with far more tragic results than those that turn out in this film the story about a conservative family struggling to restrain their daughter as she focuses on her sole passion, martial arts.

Dealing with rebellious teenagers is hard enough without adding cultural traditions and preservation into the mix. Aicha’s parents struggle to contain their rebellious daughter while adhering to their Islamic principles and faith. What you get is the clash of worldviews; I can only imagine her parents’ principles were formed in their native Turkey and Aicha’s in Denmark amongst a western influence, yet there is still evidence in the script that she does hold those same values as her parents. One thing I know from years of teen peer counsel is that immigrant parents often struggle with accepting their children and their acceptance and involvement in Western culture. Natasha Arthy’s script focuses on this issue and it feels so real. The frustration of Aicha and her parents, the pain that they feel comes across so real. Never for a moment did I doubt it. Danish native Arthy employs absolute sensitivity to the issues in her script and direction.

Aicha’s actions and rebellion eventually create a rift, not only in her family but also between her family and the family of her brother’s fiancée. Not only are her secrets exposed but those of other family members in her family. Fortunately for Aicha here story ends on a hopeful note- that forgiveness and resolution can happen. There are too often tragic stories that reach our ears where families simply cease to function even within their own conservative structure and family members are harmed and even murdered. The issues in Arthy’s script are real and tragic. Arthy’s film approaches this issue with respect and dignity never making final judgment on any of its characters and giving fair representation to both sides.

Xian Gao’s action choreography is both elegant and powerful. The sequences themselves are framed and filmed at a widescreen angle, far enough away to appreciate the pure spectacle and modern mysticism of the action. Thank god for that as we are far too often pressured to make sense of a sequence that is filmed so close to the actors you can smell their breath. There is no need to get that camera in close and make your audience feel involved in the action as that would take away from the emotion of the moment for Aicha. With very little wire work used the hiring of capable martial artists to fill the roles of the cast pays off. Each scene looks great and Arthy had enough sense to let Gao’s hard work do the talking.

Fighter is a rarity in the martial arts cinema world. It is a film that deals with very real and very explosive elements of cultural influence and family structure. At the same time it is also a very, very good martial arts film that takes full advantage of the skills of its cast and the guidance of its choreographer.

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