DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: Crying Fist

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Crying Fist

Crying Fist (2005) Dir. Seung-wan Ryoo
Starring: Choi Min-sik, Ryoo Seung-bum

**

Imagine two parallel Rocky pictures mixed with Asian extremes and that peculiar Korean cinematic wit. Unfortunately, at 135 minutes it's just way too long to keep anyone other than Asian cinema fans nailed to their couch.

Tae-shik (Choi Min-sik) is a middle-aged former boxer, and father and husband, who is so down on his luck he's forced to make ends meet as a street performer, offering to be beaten up by anyone with some spare change. Sang-hwan (Ryoo Seung-bum) is a young punk who disappoints his family when he finds himself in prison for robbery. An amateur boxing competition becomes the salvation for these characters, a parallel trajectory that leads them to fight each other in the ring, both looking to reclaim their lost honour.

Choi Min-sik, most likely remembered by North American audiences as the tortured hero in ‘Old Boy’, has a remarkable face. His uncanny ability to evoke earth-shattering sadness and stone cold rage reminds us of Takeshi Kitano or Robert De Niro. His character is so loveably pathetic we desperately yearn for him to escape from his despair. Less so with Ryoo Seung-bum; the younger protag who seeks to regain the pride of his dying grandmother is as sullen but less endearing than Min-sik.

Even if both stories were equally compelling the film needs to be shortened by 45 minutes. The boxing competition isn't announced until the one-and-a-half-hour mark; it would be either the mid-point or first act turn in most movies. Before then it's a series of repetitious scenes that continually beat us down with the depravity and lifelessness of the characters.

But of course, this is Asian cinema, specifically Korean, which has its unique peculiarities. For fans of the genre it fits in well with the themes of self-flagellation and humiliation, bringing the characters down to their lowest moments. Tae-shik's dishonourable humiliation at being beaten daily in the streets by regular people is darkly humorous. At one point Tae-shik's loan officer, in an attempt to regain his honour, eats a man's freshly cut fingernail droppings as repentance.

Curiously, it's only been three years since its original release and the film already shows its age. The striking cinematography is comprised of blown out white highlights and overexposed backgrounds — the "Tony Scott look" that's now passé even for television. Even many of the Asian extreme elements, including the fingernail bit, in 2009 feel like they've jumped the shark.

This review first appeared on Exclaim.ca

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