Friday, April 7, 2023

Birds Don't Have Fists: Fist of the Condor (2023) Review [Hi-Yah!]

Director: Ernesto Díaz Espinoza

Notable Cast: Marko Zaror, Marko Zaror, Eyal Meyer, Gina Aguad, Fernanda Urrejola, Man Soo Yoon, Jose Manuel, Cristian Garin, Francisco Castro


When I told my wife that I had a new movie to watch the other night, she asked the question that most people ask. “Which one?” I replied, “Fist of the Condor. The new kung fu movie starring Marko Zaror.” She paused for a moment. “Well, that doesn’t make sense. Birds don’t have fists.”

She’s a funny one, that gal. 


On the one hand, she’s absolutely right. Condors are big badass birds, but they certainly don’t have fists. In true, classic kung fu fashion, it doesn’t really matter though when the animal is just an inspiration for the martial arts. Condors don’t need fists... because you know who does have fists? Marko fuckin’ Zaror. And he’s bringing his own martial arts style to the screen in that classic kung fu manner. It just so happens that he has the perfect physique that he looks like a condor when he extends his arms into a full wingspan. Just before he starts handing people their asses. 


Thus, we have the film Fist of the Condor, which reunites Zaror with director Ernesto Díaz Espinoza for a throwback martial arts flick that pulls from a variety of influences to deliver its ass-kicking tale of two brothers destined to clash over the secret kung fu manual that teaches the titular kung fu style. One brother chose to protect it, the other striving to claim it. Before you ask, yes, Zaror plays both brothers - one complete with a fantastic long-hair wig. 


The star and director previously teamed up for the ultra-impressive Redeemer back in 2014 and a few other films before that. Yet, it’s obvious that Fist of the Condor reads like the kind of passion project that only comes around once or twice in a lifetime. Its influences, like the David Carradine starring TV show Kung Fu or classic 70s kung fu films, are worn blatantly on its sleeves. The wandering lead character, the anti-hero elements for both of the brother characters and the low budget feel all lend well to recreating those 70s aspects and will have old-school kung fu fans immediately hooked. I know I was. 


Fist of the Condor moves at a swift pace too, blowing through the lore of its Condor Style Manuel in the opening and immediately whipping into the loosely threaded plot. At a blissful 80+ minutes, it never overstays its welcome and instead takes the time it has on its smaller cast and delivers on the martial arts action. It manages its lower budget well in this regard. Keep it fast enough and the audience won’t ask too many questions about the conveniences that are required to keep the plot moving. 


The best part, outside of Zaror doing his smoldering anti-hero with a heart buried underneath his finely tuned steel framework, is the action. In its throwback style, Fist of the Condor focuses down on the one-on-one martial arts battles with the occasional gimmick like the gloriously cheesy fact that our hero suffers from a condition that cripples him when bright lights shine into his eyes. The fighters, which include various challengers and big-bad’s right-hand henchman, are all well versed in the classic kung fu style, popping out silhouetted shapes and moments for the audience to catch up as they speedily work their way through the fun choreography. It’s impressively done in its throwback style and, once again, kung fu fantastic are going to love what it’s delivering. 


Perhaps its biggest (and boldest?) choice is that it immediately announces itself as a “first part” of the story. Its narrative is already broken into chapters where its borderline meandering narrative feels like one of those classic wuxia novels in its structure. Even the tone falls into those lines, like this is the first chapter of a massive epic, told by Espinoza that holds its material as poetic. It then ends in a way that very much feels like it should have featured a “to be continued” card at the end, leaving us hanging and asking when will the second film find its way to our eyeballs and earholes. 


Fist of the Condor may not be a film for everyone, simply because of the niche audience it's aiming for as a style and narrative. It is meant to invoke nostalgia and love in kung fu fans for the films from the 1970s and for those who are not necessarily in that niche, it might come off as a bit too off the beaten path to snag the love. Yet, in terms of what it’s aiming for, Espinoza and Zaror have delivered exactly what they intend. It’s a throwback martial arts flick that manages to be as entertaining and fun in its concept as it is playing all of its lore, characters, and narrative deathly serious. 


Perhaps I should correct my statement at the beginning of this review. No, condors don’t have fists. Zaror does, fully unveiled in the film’s condor style of kung fu, but Fist of the Condor definitely has fists because it's hitting all of its targets with flourish and fun. 


Written By Matt Malpica Reifschneider

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