Star Runner (2003)

Posted in Reviews by - July 05, 2021
Star Runner (2003)

This is a real mixed bag; a schmaltzy, soft focus teen romance coupled with a predictable tournament movie. Black Mask director Daniel Lee uses a melancholy acoustic soundtrack and some overwrought performances to layer on sentiment with a heavy trowel (think Best of the Best levels of troweling), and although the story is very familiar, some of these rousing emotional tricks do occasionally work. As a piece of postmillennial Hong Kong martial arts filmmaking, the movie is notable for introducing a trio of fresh-faced Asian American actors who would, within the next decade, become Hong Kong’s next generation of fighting stars: Philip Ng (working as Chin Kar-lok’s assistant action director, as well as having a small role), Andy On (convincing as the film’s imposing champion fighter, Tank, a role which would see him pick up Best New Performer at the 23rd Hong Kong Film Awards), and Van Ness Wu, a singer in the Taiwanese boy band, F4, leading his first feature film. Wu plays a high-school rogue prone to impulsive violent outbursts who has his mind set on winning the upcoming international ‘Star Runner’ martial arts competition, helping to turn around the fortunes of Gordon Liu’s struggling kickboxing gym. He’s a troubled boy, dealing with absent parents and a comatose grandfather (played by Shaw Brothers legend, David Chiang). Enter Kim (Korean star Kim Hyun-joo), Wu’s new ‘multimedia’ teacher at school, who seems to be constantly followed around by a wind machine causing her hair to softly billow, like in a shampoo commercial. The two start a somewhat inappropriate tryst which not only threatens to jeopardise Wu’s focus on the tournament, but could also end Kim’s teaching career. The drama unfolds exactly how you would imagine, with Wu having to carry the redemptive baggage of all the characters close him – which includes a new alcoholic coach and former ace fighter, called ‘Bullshit Bill’ (Benny Mok). In a neat nationalistic aside, Wu is taught how the adaptive powers of Chinese kung fu – namely Hung Gar and Wing Chun – will neatly align with his Muay Thai skills, helping him to perform better in the tournament. This cues up a cameo from another Shaw legend, Ti Lung, who goes to town on a Wing Chun wooden dummy. The central relationship between Kim and Wu never feels authentic, and although Wu is no slouch in the action scenes, you do keep thinking, ‘shouldn’t you be at school?’ For some strange reason, the film was called The Kumite on DVD in the USA, but it’s much closer to a romantic drama than a Bloodsport rip-off.

AKA: The Kumite.

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Editor and creator of Kung Fu Movie Guide and the host of the Kung Fu Movie Guide Podcast. I live behind a keyboard in London, UK.

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