Made in: Denmark
Language: Danish, Turkish, English, Chinese
Director: Natasha Arthy
Starring: Semra Turan, Nima Nabipour, Cyron Bjørn Melville, Sadi Tekelioglu, Özlem Saglanmak, Denize Karabuda, Xian Gao, Behruz Banissi, Molly Blixt Egelind
Year: 2007

Synopsis: Aicha (Semra Turan) is a teenager born to first generation Turkish immigrants. The family lives in Denmark, where Aicha attends high school. She's a serious kung fu enthusiast, but her parents expect her to study so she can get into medical school and become a doctor like her older brother, Ali (Nima Nabipour).

Aicha's father (Sadi Tekelioglu) runs a tight ship. When he makes a decision, there is no debate or hope for negotiation. And his children are expected to live up to strict standards of behavior. For Aicha, that means doing housework, studying, no dating, studying, no partying, studying, putting family honor above all else, studying, studying, and more studying.

Aicha's passion for kung fu is obviously unacceptable to her elders, so she has to work very hard in order to keep her hobby a secret. But things get intense when Ali is about to be engaged to fellow doctor Yasemin (Özlem Saglanmak), who's from a much wealthier family. This puts even more pressure on Aicha to be mindful of her conduct.

When the hot-headed Aicha is kicked out of her school's martial arts club, she joins a much more serious studio run by an honest to goodness Chinese guy (Xian Gao). How Xian wound up in Denmark of all places is anyone's guess, but seeing potential in Aicha, he permits her to join (and forces everyone to speak broken English).

As Aicha improves her abilities, she starts falling for Emil (Cyron Bjørn Melville), a fellow student. And as she continues to devote more time to becoming a kung fu fighter, Aicha's grades begin suffering big time.

Things get even worse when Aicha discovers that the studio's best student, Omar (Behruz Banissi) also happens to be a good friend of Yasemin's family. With her secret threatened, and with a major tournament coming up, Aicha finds herself on a quest to not only discover herself, but to reconcile living amongst two vastly different cultures.

The Good: Fighter is very well shot, and the cinematography gives it a raw, indie look that works. The fight choreography isn't too bad either, and the fight scenes are entertaining.

The actors are all very realistic looking people, so it's easy to identify with the characters. Semra Turan plays an effective, multidimensional protagonist whom we clearly sympathize with despite her personal flaws.

The Bad: Fighter is quite uneven at times. There are moments of emotional intensity that draw us in, then there are other equally powerful elements that are only briefly explored before being abandoned.

For instance, Xian Gao, who plays Aicha's master, is presented as a wise, skillful teacher who's full of philosophical insights. However, he does nothing to mentor Aicha. Furthermore, Omar, supposedly his finest student, is a complete prick.

Learning kung fu is a philosophy that's supposed to engender respect for oneself, others (despite differences), and being nice to nature, small furry animals, and stuff like that. But Omar's blatant sexism and assholery conduct completely contradict those teachings. Yet he's touted as the studio's "best fighter?" (Actual quote).

And the final tournament appears to take place in an underground, ghetto-like setting. It's a jarring change from the rest of the movie, and seems totally out of place.

And to further bring out lapses in logic, the tournament is full-contact (with regard to weight class), co-ed, and no one is wearing any padding or helmets. Plus, the scoring criteria isn't very clear either. They could have at least taken a few seconds to tell us what the rules were (like they did in Karate Kid)

Worst of all is the portrayal of Aicha's family. This film seems to send the message that traditional Turkish-muslim culture is barbaric, backward, and more accepting of violence than the mafia. I'm not trying to pander to PC sensibilities, but there was definitely a better way to present the East vs. West culture divide in a less cartoonish fashion.

And none of the story's conflicts are ever resolved in a satisfying (or logical) manner. There's no repudiation of the extreme violence inflicted on some of the characters, and no bridging of cultures either.

Who would like this movie: Figher is intended for you if you're interested in cross-cultural issues and martial arts. It has an edgy indie look that's visually effective, and the actors are decent. It pretty much follows the same formula as Bend it like Beckham, only without the wit, humor, and narrative coherence.

(2 out of 4 stars)

Review written by: Joe Yang

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