Movie Review: Path to the Dream (2018)

Director Ke Zhou’s second directorial effort (the first being “The Master”) is more stylish than it is good, but it has enough drama and decent martial arts action to please aficionados, while the casual viewer would probably be best suited watching something else.

I can remember the joy as a kid - and already a martial arts practitioner at the age of 9 - when I first saw Hong Kong kung-fu films.  There was something so different about them, and I’m not just talking culturally, I’m talking about the martial arts themselves.  It wasn’t until I was older that I realized just what that “something” was: the martial arts moves were fast.  This was in stark contrast to the martial arts films of Jean Claude Van Damme or even earlier ones starring Chuck Norris.  (And they were even more of a far cry from watching “Kung-Fu” as a kid, with the non-martial artist, non-Asian David Carradine!)  In American-made martial arts actioners - what few there were - the action was purposely slowed down so that the viewer could see the move easier, or a lot of slow-motion effects were utilized during the fight scenes.

Fast forward a few years to the Hong Kong actioners of Jet Li, especially the “Once Upon a Time in China” trilogy, and you saw fast-as-hell kung-fu at its finest.

Which makes the martial arts of Path to the Dream a little odd.  Sometimes ultra-fast, sometimes slow-motion, it has the effect of being somewhat of a distraction for the kung-fu fan.  Part of the problem may lie in the fact that the movie was going to be too short without all of the slow-mo effects (coupled with the often long shots of the two cities in which  the film is set). Even with the sometimes slowed down pace, the film still clocks in at around 90 minutes, which is short for a modern Asian action film.  (In many ways, I must say, I’m not entirely complaining.  If you’re a fan of Korean cinema, which I am, then you know that it’s hard to find any of their films that are under two hours these days.  And don’t even get me started on Bollywood!)

The film centers around two brothers, played by Hongbo Shi and Junkang Wang, who have been separated since their youth.  As children, both of them dreamed of winning the National Chinese boxing tournament, but as adults, the elder (Shi) has lost his way in a criminal underworld where he is the top henchman.  The younger brother is still fighting for his dream of becoming “the champ”. After years apart, they are finally reunited when a friend of Wang’s is attacked by the older brother’s gang.

I won’t get into all of the melodramatic details.  Even at its 90 minute running time, the drama, for what it is, gets a bit dull and staid.  Luckily, there is enough martial arts mayhem to keep the viewer entertained between lackluster arguments and emotional speeches.  And the final fight scene almost makes the entire enterprise worthwhile.

Not great, but by no means bad, Path to the Dream is a fine addition to a kung-fu fan’s Friday night rental quee, while those of less discriminating martial arts tastes would do well to probably stay away.

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