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SIFF 2008: Fighter
Turkey/Denmark 2007
Review by Asli Omur
Posted June 1, 2008


Danish born and raised, Ayse Erman, has come to a fork in the road: continue with high school and move onto medical school or become a kung fu fighter. The latter being the root of her wildest dreams. She is an intense and fiery girl, who, along with the stunning cinematography, defies Turkish tradition. Ayse, played by the unforgettable Semra Turan, must make choices that no one in her Turkish family can find agreement in. The film highlights her experience as one big, long bad day that never seems to end.

            After a scuffle with a female bully at her karate school she is referred by her instructor to practice at a professional kung fu school. She is first rejected, but refuses to back down claiming she “can be good,” and “will be good,” if only the master give her a chance to prove herself. The trouble comes when trying to convince her tough father that she wants to join the class and fight girls -and boys. Despite his forbidding her to continue with kung fu, she sneaks to class daily, gaining strength and capitalizing on her fast ability to react. She accidentally breaks cabinets as she practices in her kitchen when her family has gone to bed. When she gets a black eye she blames it on a door. A subtle romance blooms with her training partner, Emil (Cyron Melville); a cross-cultural romance that wreaks its own havoc. Her mother suggests husbands for her while her father asks “Who will ever love a girl like you?” She is too aggressive, too feisty for a Turkish marriage, he says.

When she is chosen as a fighter for her dojo at a championship, she is unstoppable. Her out of body fight scene with herself parallels her struggle between fighting traditions and her desires. Her masters final words of “Be true,” and “Look always in the eyes [of your opponent],” allows her to face another one of her obstacles, fighting for the championship title against a Turkish male friend connected to her family that refused to fight her because she was a girl.

Ayse is relatable and yet a true fantasy. She is no damsel in distress. When her brother is beaten up for a misunderstanding with his fiancÚs family, Ayse comes to the rescue. When her honor has been shattered, she retaliates. Her anger towards discrimination makes her pop out of the screen gracefully. Bits of unexpected humor come when asked where she comes from, she responds, “North Copenhagen.”

Fighter is fast, athletic, set in dark and wintery Danish locales to an energetic soundtrack. The film has residue of Run Lola Run. Ayse is always running. Her life never seems free from prying eyes. Fighter does something no kung fu film has ever done: a storyline revolving around a triumphant Turkish heroine. Fighter like the other three Turkish entries in the Seattle Film Festival this year, solely illuminates the Turkish female perspective, a rare doing in cinema.


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