I watch a lot of martial art films. While I don't believe that one style is superior to all others, there are some styles I appreciate more than others, particuarly on film. It's been a long time since I've seen a movie about karate that impressed me.
So along comes Black Belt, a film with the tag line "Real Fight, Real Karate, Real Japan".
The movie begins in the 1930s. Three students are training with an elderly karate master. A troop of military police arrive and attempt to requisition their dojo. The most hot-headed student, Taikan, resists, leading to student Choei being badly injured by a sword and then to a duel. Taikan disobeys his master's orders to only defend and quickly injures one sword-armed MP and kills another.
The master then demands that softer-spoken Giryu fight instead. Giryu follows his master's orders and only defends, but basically cripples the commander of the military police, breaking the commander's hands while defending himself from sword attacks. He refuses to kill the disgraced and injured commander.
The military police retreat temporarily, but in the meantime the old karate master passes away. He leaves his belt- and the legacy of his school- behind, but doesn't choose which student it should go to. He says they will know who should possess the belt, in time.
The military police return and commandeer the students to teach karate to their recruits, and it is here that Giryu and Taikan begin down the different paths hinted at in their confrontation with the police. One will follow his master's teachings, and the other will follow his own path no matter the cost. Which one will prove worthy of their master's belt and legacy?
So what's impressive about Black Belt? First off, it's immediately obvious that the the men playing Taikan and Giryu are real experts in karate. These aren't actors pretending, these are martial artists who have devoted a large portion of their life to what they're doing, and it shows. The fights are impressive. This isn't Ong Bak, or MMA, it's traditional karate, but it's traditional karate done with skill, power, and grace. It's a thing of beauty.
On top of that, the actors playing these parts are quite good in the roles. Often when a real martial artist is cast in a movie the acting suffers, but that isn't the case in Black Belt. Both men fit their parts well.
The cinematography also bears mention; Black Belt is an extremely good looking film. It takes full advantage of some of the beautiful landscapes available in Japan. The fights themselves are also very well shot; There was none of the annoying shaky-cam techniques and over-editing that have come to plague many modern martial arts films.
If you're interested in seeing some traditional karate done well you should definitely give Black Belt a look.