King of the Streets (2012)
Director: Yue Song, Zhong Lei
Writers: Yue Song, Zhong Lei
Starring: Yue Song, Li YuFei, Yang JianPing, and Kang En

The Plot: Feng (Yue Song) is a young man that has just got out of prison. As a teen, the young man was known as The Street Fighter and regularly demonstrated his skill. After accidentally killing one of his opponents though, Feng was given eight years in prison to think about how he applies his martial skill. After his release, Feng tries his best to avert any trouble, but when he runs into a beautiful young woman (Li YuFei) who needs his help, he finds himself defending both her as well as the orphanage that she looks after. This means he will be going headfirst into combat with a group of thugs who run an underground streetfighting group.

The Review
Upon first glance, I can’t say I would blame you for mistaking King of the Streets for a recent Thai/Southeast Asian action vehicle. The cover art is reminiscent of the post-Ong Bak landscape, it features a man wearing Thai boxing regalia, and even after the first few minutes of the movie it may not seem readily apparent that this is a Chinese action movie. With flying knee strikes in the choreography and a very abrasive and hard-edge style that defines the new school of Thai action films, the choreography here does not seem representative of classic Kung Fu cinema. Outside of some selective groups (such as Donnie Yen’s aggressive and revolutionary SPL & Flash Point), China has proven to still be a country that believes firmly in the traditionalism of The Martial Arts. Yet, despite this, there are apparently those who are venturing forward and aspiring to evolve and learn new things. With the UFC trying to make headroom into the Chinese marketplace, obviously due to some hint of demand, and with China becoming such a massive market, it isn’t out of the question to hope for some very strong progression within martial arts cinema. This is only my hopeful thinking due to the stagnated nature of modern Chinese action cinema, yet the question becomes – could The King of the Streets be a step in the right direction? The answer to that is varied, but it is a movie that certainly shows a great deal of promise.

For a brutal martial arts film, some viewers may find themselves surprised with the level of characterization found at the beginning of the movie. For better or for worse, King of the Streets doesn’t have the pace that one might expect from this genre. The action is kept very sparse during the first thirty or forty minutes of the movie. Most of this time is instead focused on Feng and his attempt to re-integrate himself back into society. Most of the action comes from the sequence of events that caused Feng to go to prison. This sequence is, as expected, a brutal and beautifully choreographed piece of action, but it’s probably not enough to satiate the desire of many viewers looking for intense action. The sequence is hinted at throughout the movie and is not played up for any potentially “exciting” moments. So, although this is a film that moves within the conventions of the kung fu genre, it doesn’t carry the same disbursement of action scenes. However, this interesting pace does carry the movie into its own direction. It avoids some of the cliches of the genre, SOME of the cliches, by not introducing random fight sequences that seem tacked on in order to pad the movie. Instead, the fights tend to feel relatively organic. Well, as organic as they can be in any film where martial arts are supposed to be integral.

The King of the Streets is undoubtedly a low budget effort. While it manages to show off a lot of visual trickery, King of the Streets does not have enough polish to fool viewers into thinking that it is anything other than a B-action film. However, there’s nothing wrong with this! The addition of the tricky shots and the interesting post-production coloring helps to elevate the movie into something a bit more interesting than your average B-movie, even if this particular film still falls into that category. Indeed, the movie looks fantastic. A great demonstration for these awesome visuals can be found during the flashback sequence where we see the relationship that Feng had with his father. In it, we watch as the camera seems to pan left and right while Feng and his father walk in and out of frame, apparently representing different years within their lives. The sequence seems as if it relies on the actors moving around quickly in and out of frame. It is a rather complex scene that doesn’t seem as if it was aided by CGI trickery – making it far more impressive.

Yue Song, who is the star and co-writer/director of the film, as our lead is both impressive and problematic. His characters is the oft-repeated strong and silent type, but he has flashes of great charisma. When he fights, he shows off a lot of machismo, which is in direct opposition to his regularly monotone personality. This creates a duality to the character that is never fleshed out or explored, and ultimately it is rather hard to get into the character’s head because of his ranging personality. During one sequence, one of the villains in the movie actually compares his character to Bruce Lee, which makes sense when looking at Song’s cocky bravado whilst fighting, but he is certainly lacking the charm that made Bruce Lee a household name. The influence is certainly found in the mentality of these fight scenes though. Less like a dance and more like a brawl, the choreography here sets aside grace and instead goes for a combination of styles that seem more likely to be seen in a real fight. With fights that end with one or two punches, and with the violence beings shown as very real and very gritty, this is certainly the type of martial arts film that I could picture coming from a Bruce Lee fan.

The Conclusion
If there is a problem with The King of the Streets, it comes from the silly and convoluted story. While Feng is a character that is developed fairly well, the rest of the characters are all very stale. Most problematic, even the villains are boring. This gives the movie a lack of personality, and it hinders it from being great. This uneven center takes the movie from a solid three down to a two in terms of its rating. Overall, it’s worth a look, but lower your expectations.