|François||3.75||A convincing melting pot from Daniel Lee|
By reading the plot of Star Runner, fans of Daniel Lee's work won't be surprised. His new movie is really in the continuity of his previous works. The chinese title is even recalling us that Star Runner will share some topics with his previous work: Fighter's Blues original title is Ah Fu (name of the character of Andy Lau), when Star Runner's original title means Young Ah Fu. In fact the characters played by Andy Lau and Vaness Wu are not related, so the reason for this title could just be commercial. You can still find many common things between the two movies, but they are mainly common things to all Daniel Lee's movies.
Just like almost all Daniel Lee's movies, Star Runner is a mix of things. What Price Survival was a modern tribute (a mix of old and new things), Black Mask was a mix of chinese kung-fu with modern SFX, Moonlight Express was a mix of romance with a cop story. When you look at Daniel Lee's work in general, mixes are really an important access. Even in his paintings, you can see that he is interested at the same time by old traditionnal chinese paintings, and more modern european style. Star Runner is typical from old things and new things, from chinese traditions with foreign influences.
Here you can find a love story between a korean teacher and her student. This story is lacking originality for sure, it's often filled with lots of cliches, but it's also saved by two important details. The first one is the touch of humor, preventing it from being too serious, and the second is quite simply the sincerity and talent used to create it. Sometimes cliches can be a strength, fans of Moment of Romance won't deny it. That's kind of the same with Star Runner, the love story is simple, but never tries to be something else than a cute love story, with an excellent music from Henry Lai, a good directing from Daniel Lee, and the cute faces of the two leads.
Then you find almost a story about a fight tournament, which recalls a bit Fighter's Blues, as both them features very raw martial arts. This part is more original and interesting than the romance. And hopefully, the romance finally ends up being just a kind of support for the other themes, just like the martial part. Star Runner is not only the story of a boxer who loves a teacher. It's something more symbolistic (just like most of Daniel Lee's work), a story about regrets and dreams, about souvenirs of course (the common theme to all Daniel Lee's movies). This part is much more interesting than the romance, with some very convincing works from the cast (Max Mok being the most touching). Then fans of martial arts will also find a lot of interest in the fights. Don't be mistaken, those looking for some raw and violents fights like in an Ong Bak or Xanda will be disappointed. Just like any Daniel Lee's martial movie, the main interest is never in the violence.
The usual approach to martial fights is usually drama-defeat-training-vengeance. You can apply that to a lot of kung-fu movies. The hero's family is killed by a bad guy with an ugly face, the hero tries to beat him but got severly beaten, then he finds a master, faces some tough training, and finally got his revenge. More interesting martial arts movies makes fun of this sequence (like Prodigal Son of Sammo Hung), or tries to show that violence is not always the answer (like Duel to the Death of Ching Siu-Tung). Star Runner belongs to the same category, here Daniel Lee tries again to focus on the reason for the fight, not only about the choreographies and who is beating who. It ends up becoming very unrealistic, just like in Fighter's Blues, and the characters even talks about their motives at the beginning of a round. This is one of the main quality of the movie, the characters' development is useful to the fights. The final fight has a lot of meaning for most of the characters, for various reasons.
Still, it doesn't mean that the choreographies suck. They are even really good, and Daniel Lee succeeds in shooting them with style but without making them unreadable. The style is quite similar to Fighter's Blues, but the choreographies are much more various, and the use of different fighting styles makes it more interesting. Daniel Lee focuses not only on the meaning of the fights, but also on their structure. The fights become then like a chess game, where each fighters tries to find a tactic and technic to beat his opponent. After several movies of muay thai or free style fight, it's pleasant to see something more original, with a mix of muay thai, wing chun and even wrestling. It's also pleasant to see competent fighters, from the old Ti Lung to Chin Ka-Lok, and some new efficient young ones (Vaness Wu being more than decent for a non martial artist, and Andy On giving a lot of energy to his character).
Overall, it's quite obvious that Star Runner is no masterpiece, especially compared to Till Death Do Us Part. The lack of originality of the love story is the main drawback here, but the fight part, the excellent music and directing, the cast and the "supporting themes" makes it a new interesting melting pot by Daniel Lee.