Dir: RyooSeung-wan. South Korea. 2005. 132mins.
One of noless than six South Korean features to be invited to Cannes this year, FIPRESCIprize-winner Crying Fist is a better film than its generally downbeatreviews at home might suggest. The latest addition to the boxing genre, CryingFist is more conventional in one way than two other recent slugfest movies,Million Dollar Baby and Beautiful Boxer, in that its two heroesare both male and heterosexual.
What is unusualabout actor-director Ryoo Seung-wan's first foray outside straight Asian actionis the way it allows the back story of the two characters to overwhelm whatwould otherwise be a fairly linear "seasoned old boxer versus angry youngcontender" fight pic. This makes for an overlong, structurally unbalanced movie- but also for a dual character study that is, paradoxically, at its best whenit gets on with observing the lives of these two scarred heroes and doesn'tworry too much about the thematic parallels, or their final convergence.
The film had astrong run in South Korea, though overseas it is unlikely to match theterritorial outreach of Oldboy, which introduced Western audiences tothe bravura of one of this film's co-stars, the ever-watchable Choi Min-sik.
Choi plays aformer champion boxer, Gang Tae-shik, who is on the skids. His marriage isfalling apart, he drinks too much, and he is in desperate financial straits.Magnificently washed-up, Tae-shik decides to make a living as a humanpunch-ball in a shopping mall - someone people can take their frustrations outon.
Meanwhile, rebelwithout a cause and small-time delinquent Yoo Sang-hwan is in conflict with theauthorities, his family, and the world in general. He is a variation on thedysfunctional hero of Chang Dong-lee's Oasis - a film in which directorRyoo had a small acting role. But Sang-hwan is an altogether sharper tool,whose bursts of violence stem not from social dyslexia but from anuncontainable anger with everyone and everything. Sentenced to prison for abrutal assault, Sang-hwan continues to play the hothead until he is nudgedtowards the prison boxing team, where he gradually learns to discipline hisrage.
Both Tae-shikand Sang-hwan are shown to be selfishly absorbed in self-destruction, and bothhurt their loved ones - Sang-hwan by refusing to see his father when he visitshim in prison, and Tae-shik by taking his frustrations out on his ten-year-oldson. It's not until an hour and a quarter into the film that the bigmotivational magnet starts to pull our two heroes towards the Korean amateurboxing finals that will bring them together at last.
By this time,though, it has established its offbeat credentials firmly enough to ride outthe scenes of the two men training and eliminating lesser rivals, which coastalong on auto-pilot.
Visually thefilm matches Old Boy for edgy style. Some scenes - like the opening shot ofTae-shik touting for business, are shot with the colours just a little bleachedout. Others go for a retro feel - like the split-screen shots of the two boxersin their respective corners of the ring.
Music veers fromCooder-like guitar twangs to the discofied Spaghetti Western breaks whichaccompany some of the film's best sequences: the full-on boxing action stuff.The camera floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee, and we feel everybody blow, see every bead of sweat.
Bravo Entertainment Production