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Michelle Thomas

Published December 2nd, 2005 | by Michelle Thomas

Crying Fist Review

Classification: 15 Director: Ryu Seung-wan Rating: 3.5/5

Crying Fist (Jumeogi unda) continues the breakthrough of Asian cinema; another classy Korean production, a sort of Fight Club meets Rocky, starring two of Korea’s hottest actors. The cunning reader will have noted the boxing references and this is a boxing movie, but it’s a bit cleverer and more interesting than your typical sports film.

Crying Fist, loosely based on real people, is the story of two losers. Gang Tae-shik (Min-sik) was once a boxing silver medallist at the Asian Games; a victim of the economic downturn in the late 90s, and his own gambling habit, everyday he walks into the centre of town, puts on a helmet and gloves and lets strangers beat him up for money. He’s performing an odd sort of public service, letting people take out their stress on him, but his own life is in ruins. His wife wants a divorce – she has met someone else, a more suitable and respectable man. His son – the only hopeful light in his life – is disgusted with him, and his health is rapidly deteriorating.

Yoo Sang-hwan (Ryoo) is a dreadlocked rebel without a cause. Refusing to get a job, his daily routine consists of petty crime, muggings and gang fights. He is the despair of his family, particularly his father. Needing money to pay off a debt, he tries to rob a wealthy neighbour and is finally arrested and jailed. While behind bars, he takes up boxing at the urging of the warden (having bitten the ear off the prison bully in a fight) and finds a new desire to actually do something with his life. When his father is killed in a tragic accident, and his grandmother has a stroke, his guilt stirs him to enter for the amateur boxing title in the hope of overcoming his deep sorrow.

Tae Shik, desperate and with nothing to lose, makes a final effort to pull himself together, impress his son and make some money, and enters for the same amateur boxing contest. In the opening rounds, Tae-shik gradually recovers his old skills, while Sang-hwan easily beats his opponents. They come together in the final match: equals, each needing to win.

Crying Fist ticks all the boxes of the sports movie – triumph of the underdog, training montage, yadda yadda yadda, you know the drill – but with a couple of interesting differences. One is the fact that you don’t really know who to root for. Both men are equally unhappy, it’s not a black and white situation with the classic poor loser versus smug winner seen in every sports film from Seabiscuit to A Knight’s Tale to The Karate Kid. This is not free from problems – it’s generally much easier if you know who you’re meant to support – but it does make for a challenging film.

The human cost of the rapid economic growth of the Asian Tiger economies is the background of the film. Tae-Shik once had everything going for him – a successful athlete with his own business. Coming of age during the economic downturn, Sang-hwan has nowhere to go.

The fights are choreographed in a visceral, bloody, messy and real fashion, and are tough to watch. Like Fight Club, and in an odd way Green Street, the film is also about the crisis of masculinity, with boxing – and winning – acting like assertive training. But though it has serious points to make, and a fairly sentimental ending, at its heart this is an action picture and a very good one at that.


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