As far as boxing movies go, In Full Bloom goes someplace else. It’s not cuddling you up to a character to milk every ounce of emotion out of the final match, nor is it purely character-driven. It’s an introspective, whimsical movie that surrounds you with passing thoughts, solemn faces, and a freight car of emotional baggage. You even get that Malick-branded, uber-expressive voiceover, where the characters’ most delicate and personal thoughts are whispered directly into your ear.
The thoughts you’re made privy to belong to Clint (Tyler Wood) and Masahiro (Yusuke Ogasawara). They’re set to fight a match that extends far beyond status or ego, due to their nationalities and its proximity to WWII. Beyond the broader context of the fight are Clint and Masahiro’s personal histories, which we’re shown in flashbacks. Clint was in the war and didn’t have the best time; Masahiro trained in the wilderness with one of those older guys who makes you do dumb stuff but is always right in the end. There’s a scenario where this story is incredibly contrived and melodramatic, but In Full Bloom doesn’t bite.
“…set to fight a match that extends far beyond status or ego, due to their nationalities and its proximity to WWII.”
By teasing more than telling, the movie creates an emotional echo chamber that resonates. You’re never told, or even encouraged, how to feel—there’s no Rocky character that the film pushes you to fall in love with. No one can be taken at face value because there is no face value. Even when they’re not whispering sweet nothings into your ear, the characters exist and communicate in an ethereal way, rarely speaking plainly but always making sense. Some of the acting is a bit clunky, and there is some over-written dialogue that seems to be from an undergrad’s notebook after witnessing a dove land on a Hummer, but those moments are the exceptions.
Boxing movies have a storied history, and the act itself has been filmed in various styles, which makes it impressive that In Full Bloom manages to surprise in the way that it does. When the bell chimes, everything outside the ring goes black, and it’s a no-muss, no-fuss two-on-two scored to the gentle beat of a beating. It’s strong stuff and convincing—I’m no monocle-polishing boxing snob, but it seems like Wood and Ogasawara know what they’re doing. For the record, the greatest boxing match in a movie remains City Lights.
Giving a boxing movie a philosophical back-alley brain transplant is just maniacal enough to work, especially when you consider the psychological discipline and physicality required to perform at a high level in any sport. In this way, In Full Bloom functions as a visually exciting tone poem and as a soulful reflection on battle. Some would call that a one-two punch, but I would never.
"…a visually exciting tone poem and as a soulful reflection on battle."