[MOVIE REVIEW]Boxing biopic ends in a TKO

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[MOVIE REVIEW]Boxing biopic ends in a TKO

With everyone already knowing so much about Muhammad Ali, a living legend, one wonders what new can be said in Michael Mann's "Ali." Once again Ali howls his famous phrase, "Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee," this time as performed by Will Smith. But this version, coming to Korea on March 1, focuses more on the inner turmoils of the great boxer's life and not just on his role in the ring.

Born Cassius Marcellus Clay in 1942, the boxer with the glib tongue, mighty fists and fast feet had to fight not only against challengers in the ring, but harsh social stigmas out of it. Converting to Islam and taking the name Muhammad Ali, he goes through many ups and downs. The film constantly enumerates Ali's personal predicaments, such as the slaying of his close friend Malcolm X and being stripped of his world heavyweight championship for refusing to register for the draft in protest of the Vietnam War. Banned from boxing, Ali was forced to sit out during his prime boxing years. He finally won reinstatement in 1970, and the film climaxes with the "Rumble in the Jungle" fight in Zaire in 1974 against George Foreman.

The first hour is fast-paced and dramatic enough; the camera vigilantly follows Ali in and out of the ring as he tries to keep his convictions. But Mann, the director of "The Insider" (1999) and "The Last of the Mohicans" (1992), has a gigantic story to tell, and he ends up bypassing events without due explanation. For the last 100 minutes, the viewer is faced with Ali doing a number of things without context. Ali, who claimed earlier on the screen that as a Muslim he does not philander, cheats on his wife repeatedly. In the fight against Foreman, uninitiated boxing fans may be convinced that Ali is going to be killed in the first few rounds because the film does not establish that that Ali's strategy was to take a pounding early with his rope-a-dope defense.

It's obvious that Smith studied hard to become the boxer, but he looks more comfortable as an eloquent speaker, not as a heavyweight champ.

If someone unfamiliar with boxing wants to get a sense of Muhammad Ali, this is definitely not the right film. He would end up only being more perplexed. Even for an avid fan of boxing who has certainly seen "The Greatest" (1977) and "When We Were Kings" (1996), the film is too unfocused and peripheral. Viewers should throw in the towel before watching the work of Mann.

by Chun Su-jin

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