As far as obscure boxing dramas go, it’s understandable if at one point or another, you were trying to keep up with the progress on Liu Fendou’s 2019 boxing drama, The Heart. The film had a nascent niche rollout in the states via Smart Cinema USA following its mainland China release and thankfully, its release has also expanded to a few others.
Well into the first half of the film, The Heart jumps back and forth in catching viewers up while telling its concurrent story. The crux? Down-and-out taxi driver Tan Kai (Yang Kun) has long since fallen from grace in the weeks and months after accidentally killing his best friend, Wang Yao (Xu Hou) in the ring during a match sanctioned by their coach. In the course of all this, he becomes fated with a young and aspiring singer named Li Chuan (Xia Zitong), the latest matching recipient of a heart for which she will have a transplant.
Fixated with guilt, Tan often trails Li from day-to-day between drives, drinks and morning hangovers to check on how Li is doing. One day he approaches her and the two discuss the heart inside Li’s chest, ensuing a burgeoning friendship between the two in which Li would often let Tan talk to the late Wang in spirit. Things begin to unravel, however, despite all warnings from Li’s doctor, as early post-op stages reveal the possibility of Li’s body rejecting the heart, and the likelihood of another costly surgery the hospital can’t afford.
Determined to oversee Wang’s vicarious longevity through saving Li’s life, Tan makes a bold return to the ring, confronting former friends and colleagues who had shunned him after Wang’s death. To earn the money they need, however, Tan’s coach turns to a gangster who bankrolls illegal, unsanctioned underground fights.
For a story like The Heart and villains obliging protagonists with the convenience of a solution that’s much ado with money, of course you can expect a catch that ultimately throws things into upheaval. This element of Liu’s 2019 film brings us full circle with our downtrodden boxer on his beleagured comeback from guilt-ridden scapegoat, to someone vying to be worthy of saving someone’s life by redeeming his own. That self-sacrifice is part and parcel to the sheer brutality of the film’s boxing sequences, coordinated with often visceral, vividly violent and bloody imagery, with action direction by Hollywood staple Clayton Barber (Creed, Netflix’s Iron Fist Season 2), and his team.
Clocked in at roughly 104 minutes, The Heart takes a thoroughly, sometimes unsparing and albeit beautiful look into a friendship, bound to meet its end one way or another. Certain choices made by these characters will leave you wondering if these plot points were simply contrived just to make the story more interesting, though its arguable that these characters have a lot more going on internally than the unengaged might care to see or realize. In my view, it’s safer to go in knowing that these characters are fully of their actions and habits, and the consequences thereafter.
At any rate, you still care about these characters and their torment and want what’s best for them. That it’s outside your control is kind of part of the considerable beauty here, in that what’s more fulfilling than the destination a person tries to reach in life, is the journey that follows.
Like all people, Tan and Li are flawed, although nevertheless are unbound by their natural callings symbolize their kindred friendship. Arguably, it stands as the essence of the very story The Heart entails, in all its engrossing poignance, ferocious action and compelling drama.
Watch The Heart on Amazon Prime.
Native New Yorker. Lover of all things pizza, chocolate, pets, and good friends. Karaoke hero. Left of center. Survivor. Fond supporter of cult, obscure and independent cinema - especially fond of Asian movies and global action cinema. Author of the bi-weekly Hit List. Founder and editor of Film Combat Syndicate. Still, very much, only human.