2005 Melbourne International Film Festival : Crying Fist (2005)

30th July 2005

Director: Ryoo Seung-wan
Starring: Choi Min-sik, Ryoo Seung-bum

Tagline: “Boxing aerobics, my ass.”

Boxing stories have been a popular theme for movies since Men Boxing (1891) right through to the more recent Millon Dollar Baby (2004). They all tend to follow similar themes with one opponent being the underdog and preparing for a make or break match against all odds.

This movie is quite different to any other boxing movies I have seen as it follows both of the opponents in their build up to the big match, even before you know they are going to meet in the ring.

Gang Tae-sik (Cho Min-sik) is a former Asian Games Boxing Silver medallist who becomes a “human punching-bag” on the streets to try and pay off his debts so he can win back the respect of his family.

Yoo Sang-hwan (Ryoo Seung-bum) is a young delinquent who is always fighting and robbing. Trying to get money for compensation one day, he mugs an old man who ends up dying, leading to Yoo being sentenced to five years in juvenile detention.

As the movie progresses, we swap between the two main characters to see all their trials including Yoo biting off part of someone’s ear in a brawl (a reference to the Tyson vs. Hollyfield fight.) Gang also has trouble once he is shown on TV and his creditors catch up with him, added to this is his son being ashamed of him after he goes to do a talk at his school and makes a fool of himself.

Both the characters have someone who looks out for them however, Gang meets a restaurant owner after he sets up in front of his store and Yoo is introduced to the boxing coach for the prison after a brawl.

After various harsh experiences and failures, both characters decide they want to compete in the national championships, even if it means they will die (they are that serious.) The training montages are quite similar, but serve to contrast Yoo’s training in the gym with Gang’s methods on the rooftop where he lives.

As you would expect, the boxing scenes are quite brutal. I wish they didn’t move the camera around so much though as it was hard to watch at times. I did enjoy the scenes where they went 360 degrees around the main characters as it gave a greater sense of place and helped you be there with the characters.

The main reason I wanted to see this movie was to see how Choi Min-sik went after his powerhouse performance in Oldboy (2003). While it is not quite up to that level, you do really believe he is Gang Tae-sik and you are not just watching Choi Min-sik playing a character. Ryoo Seung-bum as Yoo Sang-hwan wasn’t as strong I thought, but he still was very good and I will look forward to seeing him in other movies from South Korea in the future.

I enjoyed the soundtrack of Korean country style music as it is much different to the “Eye of the Tiger” rock music that you would expect from this type of movie. Also of note is the traditional Maori love song 'Pokarekare Ana' that appears throughout the movie. It turns out the song was brought over to Korea during the Korean War in the 1950's by New Zealand soldiers and has been well known ever since. Having learnt about the meaning of the song, it is particularly well suited to the soundtrack.

I would definitely consider buying the soundtrack when I have the chance to buy the movie.

While I have not seen any previous work from this director, after this movie I am going to make an effort to check out his previous work as I have heard that it is quite good.

When I first heard of this movie, I thought it would be similar to the upcoming Cinderella Man (2005), or the previous classics of Raging Bull (1980) or Rocky (1976). I am pleased to say that it is quite different to those movies and while it is not my favourite movie on the subject (When We Were Kings (1996) is still the best), it is definitely one of my favourites of the genre.

Rating: 8/10