By Ed Sum
(The Vintage Tempest)
North American Premiere
Playing at Fantasia Digital Film Festival 2020 On Demand till Sept 2 (5pm EST). Buy your virtual ticket here.
My Punch-Drunk Boxer ( 판소리 복서) could do with a shorter run time if it wants a knockout at the box office. This film is trying to balance being a rom com and sports drama at the same time. As any trainer will tell you, focus!
This Korean film moves to a beat of its own and it can succeed, had it been broken up to two films than one. It almost copies what the protagonist is up to and moves in time to a style that Byeong-Goo (Uhm Tae Goo), a boxer turned ne’er-do-well, developed when he was at his prime. Sadly, an incident ended his career and now he’s doing menial tasks for gym manager, Mr. Park (Kim Hee-won).
One day, Min-Ji (Hyeri) asks to join, so she can learn how to defend himself, and soon falls in love with Byeong-Goo. She sees the shell of a man and feels for him. Also, she recognizes his passion for this sport. The flashbacks are better at revealing where he came from. It’s easier to emphasize with this version of the character instead of the current one. We also discover how he developed his unique boxing style, which is based on the Korean musical rhythm of P’ansori.
Comparisons to the Rocky franchise can easily be made. The hero’s journey is three of Stallone’s films compressed into one; both protagonists developed punch drunk syndrome–hence the title. Muhammad Ali also suffered and it’s a shame a brutal sport can do that. It’s not deserved when rules can be put in place to prevent it. Just look at Karate Kid–no blows to the head count despite him winning the tournament that way.
Byeong-Goo doesn’t tell anyone why he is what he is. He’s not slow. He can punch like a butterfly and sting like a bee. The scenes of him getting back up to speed is funny for a few seconds, and I can root for him, but director/co-writer Jeong Hyeok-gi doesn’t get silly. I would love a bit of Dodgeball style humour but instead, it’s more observational.
This movie finally finds its footing by the last act and I’m sure we can all agree to what Muhammad Ali once said: “What I suffered physically was worth what I’ve accomplished in life. A man who is not courageous enough to take risks will never accomplish anything in life.”
3 Stars out of 5