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Art House: ice hockey star Kharlamov is the stuff of 'Legend'

Yvonne Teh

 

Valeri Kharlamov was a Soviet-era ice hockey star widely considered to be one of the game's greats. A veritable goal-scoring machine with a flamboyant and sniping style of play, the Moscow-born star's career highlights include 193 goals in 292 games for the USSR, and two Olympic gold medals.

Kharlamov's jersey number of choice was 17 throughout his career. In his honour, National Hockey League players Ilya Kovalchuk and Evgeni Malkin wear the 17 and 71 on their jerseys. Also as a tribute to Kharlamov, both the Russian national team and his long-time club side, CSKA Moscow, have retired the number 17 jerseys.

For his fellow Russians then, Nikolay Lebedev's Legend No 17 could only be about one man. And while Kharlamov's life story already is well known to many of them, they have still flocked to see this sports biopic which went on general release nationally on April 18 and became the domestic film industry's smash hit of 2013.

Legend No 17 opens with scenes set in Spain in 1956 that serve to illustrate, among other things, the strong bond Kharlamov had with his ethnic Basque mother, Begonia (Alejandra Grepi). The woman who would become his wife, Irina (Svetlana Ivanova), is also shown in the film.

Still, there's no question that Kharlamov (played for most of the film by Danila Kozlovsky) is the central figure - and that the key relationship in the ice hockey great's life is between him and his mentor and club and national team coach, Anatoly Tarasov (Oleg Menshikov).

An infamously tough taskmaster who makes American basketball coach Bobby Knight and English soccer manager-coach Brian Clough look like mere pussycats, Tarasov was feared but also revered by his charges.

The first time that the two men meet, it's at a junior game held in Moscow. The year is 1968 and the then 20-year-old talent is playing like the prodigy that others were already billing him as.

Tarasov appeared to be unimpressed - one of his first acts involving Kharlamov sees him sending the younger man to play in a lower league team in the Urals.

But when the player starts to regularly score seven goals in each game, he gets recalled to Moscow and, in time, rises to become the shining star of both the club and national teams coached by Tarasov.

Legend No 17's domestic release was timed to coincide with this year's World Ice Hockey Championship and to take advantage of the Olympic fever building in the country ahead of the 22nd Winter Olympics set to take place in the Russian city of Sochi in February next year.

There are hopes that the men's national team will rise to glory next year. In the meantime, cinemagoers can relive the days when Kharlamov's feats played like the stuff of legends.

Legend No 17, June 14, 7.15pm, The Grand Cinema, Elements mall, Kowloon. Part of the Russia through the Big Screen showcase

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