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Frank M. Ahearn,
Kang Tae Sik is a 43-year-old former silver medalist boxer. He now spends his days hawking himself as a human punching bag to passersby in a shopping district in Seoul and other times hiding from various loan sharks. His wife wants a divorce and is threatening to take take their own only son with her. Yoo Sang Hwan is a troubled youth, who was only recently released from prison. Sang Hwan robbed and beat up his elderly neighbor in an attempt to pay off his debts. While in prison, a guard recommended Sang Hwan take up boxing as a way to release his aggression. Now, with his father having passed away, his mother's whereabouts unknown and his grandmother just having a stroke, Sang Hwan is desperate. An amateur boxing competition takes place, providing hope for these two men. They will meet in the ring. Written by
A curious Korean fight film that will ultimately please lovers of melodrama and boxing, but few others.
Like Rod Steiger's pained and enraged portrayal of Sol Nazerman in "The Pawnbroker," Choi Min-shik's performance in the 2003 film "Oldboy" is so indelibly stamped in my mind that I shall never forget it. So, I was understandably attracted to "Crying Fist" ("Jumeogi Unda"), knowing that he shared top billing in another presentation from the Hawaii International Film Festival. Choi's turn as a middle aged failure of a con man, whose only claim to fame is an amateur boxing title in his youth, again proves his power as an actor. The performance does not, however, pack the strength to overcome a sappy, melodramatic ending that ruins what might have been a more satisfying work.
Gang Tae-shik (Choi) is so pathetically down on his luck that he has taken to the world's most brutal form of street performance. For the equivalent of about $10, frustrated men, serial bullies and guys just looking to take out their aggression and anger on someone, can strap on a pair of gloves and pound away on Gang for one full minute. Gang will defend himself but not fight back. Labeled "the human punching bag," he lets women whale away on him for two minutes. He longs for a serious boxing comeback, a chance to regain his dignity and maybe win back his estranged wife and son.
Yoo Sang-hwan (Ryu Seung-beom) has acute anger management and drug abuse issues; he is regularly beating people up on the street and getting arrested. He gets introduced to boxing in a juvenile lock-up, where a tough old trainer convinces him that a boxing career might pull him out of the gutter of his life. He is years younger than Gang, but no less interesting or well-developed a character. Ryu, brother of Writer/Director Ryu Seung-wan, is highly effective in the role.
Inevitably, Gang and Yoo fight each other in an amateur match that could change each of their lives or accomplish nothing.
Interestingly, the characters never meet until their bout, so you have a film with parallel story lines and two protagonists, both underdogs. Who do you cheer for and why? Curious. (Actually, Korean boxing fans don't cheer, so the fight scenes are eerily and sometimes frighteningly quiet, with the only sounds coming from gloves striking human flesh, the grunts and groans of the fighters, and the admonitions of their trainers. Curious.) The fight scenes are not the best I've ever seen filmed, but they are very realistic and appropriate in the context of these boxers being amateurs. Choi and Ryu clearly took some serious hits during production. There are not a lot of pulled punches.
I found the third act unnecessarily melodramatic, but if you don't mind that kind of emotional string-pulling, you may find "Crying Fist" very much to your liking. But be warned, it is a brutal, bloody film, just as boxing is a brutal and bloody sport.
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