Film Review: 《空手道》The Empty Hands (2017) Japanese Culture in Hong Kong
Updated: Aug 4, 2021
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This film is not an art film at all, but it is a well-made Hong Kong action film featuring karate and typical human relationships around it. And we can enjoy it without political position of the director in Hong Kong political environment. Chapman To is obviously affected by Sugata-Sanshirou (Dir. Akira Kurosawa, Japan, 1943) and Clint Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby (US, 2004), however it is in several essences only. For instance, the 30 year old girl gets trained by a senior trainer who is compassionate about her drastic situation of life; the official karate sequence in which the antagonist is look like the opponent of Hilary Swank's boxer in the final match.
The plot is simple enough that Mari Hirakawa who is a half Japanese Hong Kong girl does not get along with her father, Karate master on his disagreement on Mari and her boyfriend's affair. After, her father's die, Mari unexpectedly inherits the karate school, dojo with ex-student of his father, yakuza, Chan Keung who also succeeds the half of it. Conflict is clear enough. Main conflict is not focussed on who inherits the whole dojo.
On the contrary, it is development of Mari through its conflicts with Chan Keung at their half succeeded dojo, after her break with her boyfriend, uncontrollable Mari gets beaten by karate children at there. This is the beginning of mutual relationship between protagonist Mari and Chan Keung who teaches karate for her and his students.
There is only one strong antagonist appears at the karate match where only one audience attends. The result is turned out to be win over the Mari's opponent. The karate match is typical Hong Kong film's performance on action sequence that its extent of violence exceeds Hollywood standard, and it is adequate to make audience feel the pain of protagonist. This kind of defamiliarization is effective!
What I prefer is the training montage sequence of Mari. During which you can see jogging on the tram rail line roads on Hong Kong Island, Wan Zai and Causeway Bay. It is also unusual to show Mari's jogging on the middle of the streets in early morning. Stephy Tang a few used stunt for her actions, almost all performances are done by herself. It adds acting values to the certain extent.
The ending is pretty sudden and vague, the dream sequence in which abstract light on the dark space shows Chan Keung leaving the dojo to Mari, and Mari also gets defeated by the opponent on the ring.
It is open ending which is typical in art film. Without this, I appreciate all of them and enjoyed the development of Mari. Mixture of genre film and art film features are harmful to box office.
Anyway, I prefer this film among all Hong Kong films this year!
10 out of 10!
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