Love Fight – Review
by Miguel Douglas on March 25, 2011
Minoru and Aki have grown up together from a young age. Contrary to easily scared Minoru, Aki, who normally looks ladylike, is very strong at fighting; hence Aki has always protected Minoru from being bullied. Their dynamics remains the same into their high school years. Wanting to break out of this situation, Minoru starts going to a boxing gym run by Oki, whom he met by chance. However, Aki, who gets wind of it, is fascinated with boxing as well, and joins the same boxing club. Minoru feels depressed, as he is again unable to break free of Aki’s influence. Through boxing, however, Minoru realizes that he has been running away from Aki and not facing her properly until now.
Judging from the title alone, director Izuru Narushima’s Love Fight may appear to be yet another film fulfilling the angst-filled teenage dilemma of love as a literal battleground. Given the steady stream of such approaches towards this particular genre in recent years, this couldn’t ring truer, but Love Fight elicits a special quality that separates itself from the remainder of films that deal within similar subjects. For one, Love Fight does indeed focus on the dynamic of teenage love as a literal battleground, but the film expands upon this premise to include a variety of levels that constitute love as an expression of perseverance, patience and even sacrifice. This further expands outside the relationship offered by the film’s two protagonists—Aki, played exceptionally well here by actress Kie Kitano, and Minoru, played by Kento Hayashi—to include multiple storylines that each handle the notion of love quite differently.
What the film offers is a look into the mental and physical—in this particular case, boxing—landscapes that persists within the characters themselves. Sure, we understand the physical attractions that are the basis of most of the relationships within the film, but Love Fight rarely showcases this as a primary element concerning the development of its characters. In fact, the film refrains from showcasing such attraction as the key motivation for the main characters. Avoiding the trappings of such as a genre—where just a kiss can completely and easily resolve any difficult conflict—the film smartly decides to focus on how these characters each address love in their own fashion. In essence, Love Fight broadens its perspective to look at how these characters develop given their different understandings of love—and how they essentially mature along the way.
What’s certainly surprising is how the film never really feels entirely centered on its two leads, contrary to what the synopsis may lead you to believe. While we do get a strong sense of their conflicted relationship towards the first half of the film—where essentially Minoru dislikes Aki always stepping in to fight his battles for him—the film branches out to include multiple storylines and even authentically dramatizing the realm of boxing. On the relationship side, we have the initial conflict of Minoru and Aki, with Minoru joining a gym to become stronger than Aki. We then are introduced to shy and timid Kyoko, a girl who likes Minoru and decides to join the gym just to be near him, hopefully one day winning his love by being stronger than Aki. We are then introduced to gym master and washed out boxer Ohki, whom we find has a somewhat disrupted past with an actress named Junko, who decides to come to the gym to learn boxing techniques for an upcoming role she has. All this may sound confusing on paper, but director Narushima allows time for each relationship and character to develop, establishing a sense of how the past may hold us back, but we can always redirect our future at any time. Here we are presented with real dilemmas, but never dramatized to the effect as to make it entirely implausible. This concept is also further explored when the film can also be seen as a boxing drama. While other films may have found it difficult in handling such concepts as romance and boxing without feeling awkward, Narushima successfully finds a balance that gives an opportunity for both to shine through.
Perhaps even more impressive is that the film really shows the considerable talent of Kie Kitano as an actress. Given her more recent roles such as in Halfway (2009) and Bandage (2010) as well as her numerous roles in television dramas, Kitano displays a powerful physical performance for her character of Aki. The various training segments for boxing throughout the film provide an awesome showcase of her acting ability and fortitude. Almost completely vanquishing any soft image one may have had of her considering her previous roles, Kitano truly develops a great physical onscreen presence. This strength of character also shines through the remainder of the cast as well. The film spends a considerable time showing the rigorous training regiments that the characters undertake. This aspect of the film should please true boxing enthusiasts mainly because it doesn’t attempt to shift focus away from the showing the hardships of bettering one’s self. The film doesn’t take the easy way out by simply having its title mean something superficial or throwaway, but rather allowing the transference of romance as a battleground to become quite a tangible reality. While some of these elements become overshadowed during the film’s latter half—moments where the injection of humor seems oddly placed—it never seems intrusive or forced, which is certainly a relief.
What Love Fight truly encompasses is that love—like a rigorous boxing regiment—takes patience, sacrifice and perseverance. Offering a very interesting metaphorical approach, the film isn’t caught up in presenting a simplistic message as told through the eyes of a teenager. Rather, the film strives to present a variety of different approaches towards understanding such a broad and expansive topic such as love. Where other films would certainly have heavily elaborated on the physical attraction of its characters towards each other, Love Fight is firm on depicting situations that offer more realistic responses than simply falling in love for the sake of easily concluding its plot. Granted, that does remain a facet of the film to some degree but it doesn’t rely on those moments to advance its narrative. It’s a film that will surprise many when they view it, and not simply because of its metaphorical statement. It will also be because it’s a film that doesn’t fall into many of the trappings that plague the teenage-romance genre today, and coupled with an excellent performance by Kie Kitano, makes Love Fight one entertaining and thoughtful film.