Published May 04, 2012In this candid and emotional depiction of a half-Chinese man trying to connect with that side of his cultural roots by entering into his father's strict world of martial arts training, writer/director/subject Corey Lee explores his need for paternal validation as much as he does the truth behind his father's legendary persona.
Frank Lee is a master of White Crane Kung Fu, who used his highly developed discipline and magnetic personality to become a world-class Muay Thai trainer, taking his protégé, Billy Chau, all the way to the world title after escaping street life in China by moving to Canada, where he initially worked as a restaurant bouncer.
Originally, Corey's intention was ostensibly to gain the knowledge necessary to pass his Chinese heritage onto his children. But it's clear to viewers, and doesn't take long for the filmmaker to admit to himself, that he's stuck in his 17-year-old mentality, desperately seeking his father's approval, to the point where he commits to five months of intensive fight training, taking him away from his family — the very act he couldn't understand his father's need to do as a child.
It's a selfish journey, but one that does ultimately bring the family together and allow old wounds to surface and begin to heal. While mostly shot chronologically, in a straightforward style, with Corey immersing himself in his father's world, when visiting wild tales from Frank's youth that there's no supportive footage of, Corey employs rudimentary animation to depict events that lend credence to the man's larger than life persona.
Archival footage of the martial arts master in his prime, performing amazing feats of strength, endurance and grace, drives home the fierce dedication of a man who always put his empire-building ambitions ahead of his family.
Frank actively perpetuates the perception that he's a sort of "superman" and it takes a trip back to his old childhood stomping grounds in Hong Kong, where the constant threat of being "chopped" shaped his desire to become strong, to crack the stern façade of his "old school Chinese mentality," as it's put by one of his second generation Chinese-Canadian students. It gets a bit sentimental, at times, but never at the expense of Corey's cathartic journey. (NFB)