The Invisible Fight


Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

The Invisible Fight
"Sometimes the rumblings are of the Shaw Brothers, at others the Marx Brothers." | Photo: Glasgow Film Festival

At one point watching The Invisible Fight my vision started to separate. That was likely a function of exhaustion, my eyes have been corrected by lenses for decades, but for a moment I wondered if the magic of cinema now extended to literal simultaneity of perspective. A madcap meditation on various orthodoxies, some of them Russian, some of them Soviet, some of them with harmonica by Ozzy Osbourne. Its iconography is a mixture of film grain and gilt on wooden panels, soft focus from smoke damage to gatefold album sleeves.

It unfolds across chapters or stations whose titles are displayed in fonts that recall bands from Birmingham that spawned genres that spawned Scandinavian biker gangs or Golden Triangle action films so cut by piracy and different audience tastes that they are less stepped down than kicked out. There are moments whose cranked action recalls the work of Millers George (Mad Max) and Max (Cheeky Chappie). It's musical, making heavy use of metal classic The Wizard by Black Sabbath, and music hall, with a set of nonsense whose similarly Seventies sensibilities seem in the vein of Monty Python.

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The opening is a border incursion by trainer clad wuxia assassins wielding nunchucks and a transistor radio, a variously aerial battle where kicks outperform Kalashnikovs. The interaction Sino-Soviet always reminds me of Jerry Cornelius and if you've ever picked up a paperback by Michael Moorcock I think this would strike you too as an iteration of the eternal champion.

Ursel Tilk is Rafael, possessed of a high-kicking certainty and ineffable weirdness that draws from the same charismatic tradition as Crispin Glover and Nicolas Cage. Behind the wheel of a cherry red Trabant or similarly comradely Corvette-a-like he is a demon but there's later one in the back seat. Kaarel Pogga is the heir apparent to the monastery whose succession is threatened by Rafael's arrival and between them is Rita (Ester Kunta) who is not a lovely meter maid but an even lovelier bottle wrangler. There are sundry other abbots and apparatchiks but it is the triptych that focuses the film.

To good effect, among them several special. Wire work, those titles, a poise and balance that sometimes leaves one hanging from the chandelier or resting on the roof. The absurdity is not where the comedy lay for me, that came from the deadpan among the derring-do. A cigarette discontinuity made me laugh aloud but it was one of several moments of technical skill that worked to create something special.

Writer/director Rainier Sarnet is new to me but I will be looking out for more. The Invisible Fight is so far along my wavelength that it spread a spectrum of delight. Mart Taniel another whose work I can't swear to seeing though he did additional photography for Undergods, a film whose mythic madness was similarly preaching to me as converted. Koshiro Hino's score stands up well against the recurrent use of Black Sabbath's The Wizard which unfolds to different extents each time it walks on by. Eddie Tsai is one of three credited choreographers, but his is fight and they are a treat. Sometimes the rumblings are of the Shaw Brothers, at others the Marx Brothers.

Shot on Alexa Mini, the sense of film grain is post production but its one of a series of artefacts of design and process that root this in a time and place that is familiar to me because of archive and iconography. The colour palette is that of panels, equal parts van with captain's chairs and shaggy carpeting and wood hidden from the KGB. Even the distortions in the credits after the VFX section are more of psychedelia than the secular. Expressively weird, and wonderful for it, its caper around sainthood is in its own way miraculous. The Invisible Fight is an umlaut away from being a skinless struggle but its rawness is itself a product of polish. When faced with holy fools whose platform soles soar in their kung fu shoes the old adages ring true. If you can't beat(ify) them join them.

Reviewed on: 26 Apr 2024
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A kung-fu comedy set in an Orthodox Monastery in 1970s Soviet Union.

Director: Rainer Sarnet

Writer: Rainer Sarnet

Starring: Ursel Tilk, Ester Kuntu, Indrek Sammul, Kaarel Pogga

Year: 2023

Runtime: 115 minutes

Country: Estonia, Latvia, Greece, Finland

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