Directed by Corey Lee. PG. 78 min. Opens Sept. 21 at Metro Theatre.
Father-son bonding is painful—literally—in Corey Lee’s doc, which finds the filmmaker enrolling in a martial-arts school run by his 70-year-old (and lethally lithe) dad. Despite his stooped appearance, Frank Lee’s hands and feet are still dangerous weapons, and he rules his Edmonton dojo with an iron fist. No wonder that his son is so ambivalent about stepping onto his turf. Which makes it all the more affecting to see how the younger Lee uses his camera as a kind of shield—even if he doesn’t skimp on footage of his own physical failures.
Legend of a Warrior isn’t really about keeping that old master-grasshopper dynamic all in the family, however. What its director is really trying to do is break down his father’s figurative defence mechanisms—to get him to talk about the difficult transition of younger days from China to Canada, and maybe to be accountable for the mistakes he made with his family as he struggled to hold on to some of his homeland’s traditions.
At first, the filmmaker and the subject fight each other to a draw, but slowly, Lee opens up his father through sheer persistence, and the revelations flow. Legend of a Warrior is stylistically sophisticated—there’s an animated flashback that knowingly evokes Kill Bill—and the younger Lee is a winning, relatable presence, so much so that one can forgive his occasionally aimless pacing. By the end of the film, it feels like he’s made a breakthrough, and he has the bruises to show it.