Reviews: Kuro-Obi

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Great Portrayal of Karate
Kuro-Obi is one of the strongest portrayals of karate I've seen in a movie both in terms of its principles and how the techniques work. Admittedly, the story itself is somewhat unremarkable, but the characterizations work well with the ideals espoused by each character.

Taikan is a headstrong and highly adept fighter who seems to believe that karate is meant to defeat those who stand in the way of your goals. Choei is the peacemaker in the group, and although he is the least adept of the three, he is a strong judge of character who seeks the most reasonable solution to problems presented in the movie. Giryu is an excellent fighter, but he has to learn when and how to employ karate in daily life. His resistance to violence use of karate is a major plot point and a good source of character development. If you pay close attention, you'll notice that all three men embody tenets of karate. Fortitude and assertiveness through Taikan, perceptiveness and empathy through Choei, and peaceful conflict resolution through Giryu. All three characterizations are necessary to form a balanced karateka. It's a philosophical subtext that permeates through the movie without slapping you in the head with its morals.

The action is crisp, efficient and without garish acrobatics. Taikan's antagonism rises as he shifts from an obliged instructor to an outright bully. Giryu has to learn to assert himself without creating unnecessary problems, and both he and Taikan come to a head in an authentic manner. I didn't really get the feeling that their sensei and other characters were walking fortune cookies. Everyone has their own view on how violence should be used, and all views were acceptable to a point. A major problem with martial arts films is that they often preach the importance of non-violent conflict resolution only to have the protagonist beat the tar out of everyone. Kuro-Obi avoids this by genuinely giving Giryu a sense of guilt that isn't tacked on. I'm also sympathetic to Taikan's belief that if you have power, you need to use it. Violence can be useful for ending conflicts, and Taikan has a valid point (unless you're a pacifist and you can't reconcile that notion). He wasn't a cartoon villain.

If you want a down-to-earth martial arts movie with realistic karate techniques, check this one out.
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