Rikidozan: A Hero Extraordinary

Director: Song Hae-seong

South Korea-Japan| 2004. English subtitles. Colour. Anamorphic. Dolby digital stereo. 134 min.

This is a spectacular bio-pic about the Japanese fighting legend who was, in fact, Korean. Though he only looks vaguely like the real Rikidozan (1924-63), Seol Gyeong-gu’s performance equals Robert De Niro’s in Raging Bull for sheer screen-holding commitment. Strikingly beefed up from his usual slim physique, Seol is utterly convincing as the Korean-born expatriate who found fame and fortune in the country of his traditional foe, and kept his true identity a secret until after his death. The film charts his professional beginnings as a sumo wrestler in Tokyo, where he was constantly humiliated by Japanese colleagues. After making his name in the U.S. as a wrestler in the early 1950s, Rikidozan returns to Japan a changed man. He introduces pro wrestling to the country, but his glamorous lifestyle and mountainous ego take a heavy psychological toll. Director Song Hae-seong’s film has lavish production values, and the blood-and-sweat wrestling scenes are terrific.

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