Making amends for the past is never easy, but street fighter Feng (Yue Song) gets a chance to make up for his mistakes almost as soon as he is released from prison. A mere day after he’s released from his eight-year imprisonment, Feng runs into a young woman named Yi (Becki Li) who is being attacked by a gang of four street hoods. Though she shows off some martial arts skills herself, Yi inevitably needs Feng to rescue her from the street gang—and other bad guys. Secretive, Feng tells Yi nothing about his past and his fighting experience.
Though there’s chemistry between the pair from the get-go, Feng doesn’t make an attempt to befriend Yi until his new boss asks him to deliver computer equipment to the orphanage where Yi works. Practically an orphan himself, Feng empathizes with Yi and the plight of the orphans. He volunteers to work in the orphanage despite frequent, visually intense flashbacks in which Feng remembers his father’s caring for him as a child and then kicking him out as a teen. These flashbacks, which are heavily saturated and shot with a diffusion filter, pop up throughout the film when Feng remembers something unpleasant from his past.
As great as these flashbacks and the film’s street fighting sequences are, The King of the Streets doesn’t offer anything new in terms of storyline. This is an a-typical martial arts movie that relies heavily on a male protagonist rescuing a pretty young woman and the orphans whom she loves. It’s easy to anticipate that Feng will run into trouble in his noble pursuit to help out at the orphanage. When a group of gang members sent by a local real estate developer-cum-crime lord comes to the orphanage to put pressure on director Zhou (Wang Zaihe) to sell the orphanage’s land, Feng expresses his concern to both Zhou and Yi, vowing to help them.
That the hoods will come back another day and be fought away by Feng is all too predictable. Martial arts fans may find themselves thinking of Bruce Lee’s early movies, where a strong moral code and a drive to protect community are often central to the hero’s redemption. In this particular version of the classic damsel (and children) in distress story, the young fighter is standing up not only against a gang of common thugs, but also against powerful businessmen.
For the viewer, there’s little doubt that Feng will find a way to fight himself out of every bad situation that he encounters. These fights, especially those that involve Feng vs. dozens of other thugs, are hands down the most exciting parts of the film. Fast-paced and brutal, the fights combine the grace of classic Kung Fu moves with the brutal reality of modern-day street fighting.
While The King of the Streets lacks the polished choreography and wirework typical of current Hong Kong blockbusters, there’s still real elegance in the street fights, especially between Feng and his best friend, A-Hai. Yue Song from the world of martial arts and MMA fighting to assist with some of the fight scenes, and it shows. The exhilarating action provides much-needed relief from the melodrama back at the orphanage.
Naturally, Feng’s story of redemption wouldn’t be complete if it didn’t also draw in friends and loved ones from his past. The young fighter finds himself fumbling for a relationship with his father, who disowned him when he began fighting as a teen. Feng reignites a relationship with A-Hai, and the two are predictably asked to betray each other by a heartless crime lord. Feng even makes efforts to take care of the grandmother of the teen he killed, shepherding her food cart through the streets and protecting her from harm. These scenes border on emotionally touching, but they don’t quite effect the viewer as much as they should.
Unfortunately, the strongest scene in The King of the Streets doesn’t come until the final 30 seconds of the film. It’s a carefully constructed scene, shot perfectly, allowing the viewer to experience a palpable tension. It’s a moment worth watching over and over, a real accomplishment for a young director who also wrote, produced and starred in the movie. While Yue Song’s first feature-length effort borrows too much from earlier martial arts movies, his work shows promise and is, at the least, an entertaining escape perfect for a lazy weekend.