Note to burgeoning screenwriters: Do you want a surefire way to motivate a reluctant hero into action? Well, just add orphans. Lots of orphans. In trouble. And make sure they're cute. After all, nobody likes ugly orphans. Dirty little scavengers. But if they're adorable, it works every time. Such is the case in the Chinese martial arts flick 'The King of the Streets.' Unfortunately, while our hero seems pretty fired up about saving the endangered children, I can't say I ever really shared his enthusiasm. I know that sounds heartless, but the movie's amateur plotting and characterizations just don't give much reason to care. On the other hand, there are some solid fight scenes -- I just wish there was a worthwhile story behind all the punches, kicks, and lingering shots of sad looking kids.
After being released from prison for killing an attacker during a deadly street fight, Yue Feng (Yue Song, who also handles directing duties) turns his back on violence and attempts to repent for his sins by living a peaceful life. Eventually he finds employment aiding a local orphanage and soon falls for a young woman (Li Yufei) who helps care for the children. But when criminals try to kick the kids out and take over the building, Feng is forced to rethink his newfound pacifist ideals. With the orphans' safety and his loved ones' lives on the line, he returns to the streets for one last fight, willing to sacrifice everything for the greater good.
Feng turns out to be a rather likeable if not totally engaging hero, and his various efforts to stay out of trouble and help others are effectively endearing. This leads to a series of increasingly elaborate good deeds that include the gallant ex-con saving a worker from a falling object, rescuing a woman being attacked by thugs, and even pushing a lady out of the way of oncoming traffic. In fact, Feng is almost set up like a superhero, one that tries to avoid a fight at all costs, and this calm and collected demeanor only makes him more badass when he finally does explode. Sadly, the protagonist's intimidating heroism is just about the only interesting aspect of the plot.
Despite Feng's clearly defined quest for justice, the movie has a really hard time finding a rhythm, and early sections tend to meander awkwardly. The editing is very clumsy and clunky with no real flow from scene to scene, leading to a disjointed feeling. A series of haphazard flashbacks to Feng's youth really don't help matters much either, and while these sequences are meant to enlighten, they instead come across as forced, cheesy, and severely underdeveloped, ineptly reinforcing motivations and dramatic setups. To this point, a third act twist involving friends turned into enemies carries absolutely no weight due to the exceedingly thin and ham-fisted backstory that's briefly established between the characters. Add in a couple of unintentionally tacky montages involving our hero aimlessly brooding through the streets or training shirtless for his big fight, and a cheap visual style that involves a lot of ungainly post production filters, and the flick soon reveals a very amateur quality.
A silly sense of humor also sneaks into the proceedings, and while these bits are fine on their own, they never really jell with the movie's otherwise somber mood. Hand holding, cartoonish music cues also serve to overstate the comedy and drama, further confusing and exaggerating the tone. Lapses in logic plague the script as well, and while it's a common and easily forgivable pitfall of martial arts flicks like this, I was often left wondering why Feng's challengers didn't just rush him all at once instead of politely taking turns when attacking him (though, even more perplexing is why nobody tries to shoot him from the get go).
Of course, the filmmakers' real focus here isn't on drama or character development -- it's on fight scenes. Though the film's first half is a little light on action, by the time the credits role, there ends up being plenty of martial arts fun, and the third act features a ton of flying fists. While nothing special, the fight choreography is exciting and entertaining. With a nice mixture of quick cuts, close-ups, and longer wide shots, the director offers a frenzied but still easily visible style, readily showing off all the cast's impressive stunt work. In fact, I rather enjoyed all the mindless punches and kicks littered throughout the action packed climax -- that is, until we eventually segue into one of the most abrupt, perplexing, and utterly out of place conclusions I've seen in a very long time.
'The King of the Streets' tries hard to gain our affections and emulate the old school appeal of classic Bruce Lee films, but the director's clumsy and trite emotional storytelling fails to inspire, leaving only a few cool fight scenes to keep the movie alive. Even the threat of adorable orphans in distress isn't enough to illicit investment in the clichéd plot. With its goofy humor and clunky direction the flick is unable to live up to its own title, becoming less of a king and more of a lowly jester. Well, a jester who can kick ass. Lots of ass.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Well Go USA brings 'The King of the Streets' to Blu-ray on a single BD-25 disc housed in a keepcase with a cardboard slipcover. After some skippable trailers the disc transitions to a standard menu. The packaging indicates that the release is Region A compatible.
The film is presented in a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio. While clarity is impressive at times, the movie's stylized cinematography gives it a cheap quality, and there are frequent artifacts visible.
The digital source is prone to noticeable banding/false contouring, noise, and aliasing that do prove to be distracting. On the upside, detail is actually strong with a very sharp image. Sadly, though, any real sense of dimension is hindered by the film's reliance on terrible post production filters that result in a washed out and flat appearance. The color palette is very subdued, and several scenes have a sickly yellow or greenish look. White levels are blown out and blacks veer toward blue in some darker shots along with faint signs of compression visible in shadows.
Though it's hard to say whether the artifacts present here are inherent to the shooting equipment used or a result of the transfer itself, they're still detrimental to the video presentation, and coupled with the movie's amateur visual style, the image ends up looking very mediocre.
The movie is provided with a Mandarin DTS-HD MA 5.1 track along with optional English subtitles. Some of the sound effects are a bit too over-the-top for my tastes, but this is a solid mix that offers a lively kick during action scenes.
Dialogue is clean and nicely balanced throughout. The soundstage features a decent sense of space, providing nice atmospherics that extend the film's ambiance with nature sounds, passing cars, rustling plates, and other assorted background effects throughout the front and rear speakers. Music also features engrossing separation and strong fidelity. Action scenes prove to be the most exciting, and various punches, kicks, and sword slashes come through with a bone crunching jolt and aggressive low frequencies. With that said, these effects are all rather exaggerated and their implementation is a little clumsy, and while this style mostly fits with the film's tone, the sounds can sometimes seem too cartoonish.
While the track doesn't have the sophistication and depth of superior action film mixes, it's still fairly enveloping and enhances the fight scenes with an appropriate assault of aural mayhem.
'The King of the Streets' has some impressive fight scenes but its plot is clichéd and awkwardly constructed, and outside of action sequences the direction is amateur. The video transfer is home to some notable artifacts and a cheap aesthetic, but the audio mix offers some welcome excitement. With no special features outside of a trailer, this is a pretty disposable release that will likely only appeal to big martial arts junkies.