Crying Fist Review
Director, Ryu Seung-wan’s fourth feature (not including the quirky short Dachimawa lee), Crying Fist is something of a melding of ideas. It builds upon foundations set by Die Bad and No Blood, No Tears in that it works as a true action drama. These elements work in perfect unison, and as Seung-wan has proven in the past the choices he makes in mixing genres have been generally good. More notably his characters come from difficult backgrounds. His protagonists are rarely seen as model heroes and yet we find worth in them. Like No Blood, No Tears his latest film is universal and has mass western appeal written all over it, but with the former still waiting to be picked up overseas we’re left to wonder over the fate of Crying Fist. However with star, Choi Min-shik gaining plenty of praise over here for his performances in Shiri and Oldboy it’s perhaps only a matter of time before it sees the light of day abroad.
The film opens on Kang Tae-shik (Choi Min-shik) - a former silver medallist at the 1990 Beijing Asian Games. Now in his mid-40’s he’s struggling to make ends meet by hosting street fights in the middle of a city centre, offering himself as a human punch bag for anyone wishing to alleviate their stress. His wife is threatening to divorce him as she’s tired of his disrespectful attitude toward her, not to mention his constant struggle against debt collectors while his son is becoming ever more distant. His poor standing forces him to eventually seek new lodgings, which he gets through Oh Won-tae (Lim Won-hee) as a means to make up for not being able to pay back the money he owes Tae-shik. Meanwhile a young man by the name of Sang-hwan (Ryu Seung-bum) is leading a life of theft and bullying. When his latest crime gets him into deep trouble, forcing his father to pay off a considerable settlement he spies and attacks local debt collector, “Old Man Kim”, before running off with a large amount of cash. The clumsy struggle proves to be fatal for Kim and Sang-hwan is quickly sentenced to five years in prison. Here he must learn to face up to his past and try to appease his disappointed father; when he draws the attention of a guard who suggests he tries out boxing for the prison team his opportunity to go on the straight and narrow becomes realised. As Tae-shik and Sang-hwan’s lives interweave the narrative builds upon what will soon become a single moment in time as these strangers face each other in a showdown that neither will forget.
Boxing dramas are as popular today as they were more than twenty years ago. Clint Eastwood‘s recent Million Dollar Baby and Ron Howard‘s Cinderella Man have certainly kept them alive. Rocky and Raging Bull both told great stories, though if I were to make any stark comparisons then the former would ring a few bells. Crying Fist carries similar elements, although it isn’t a boxing film in the strictest sense. Here the sport is used to carry the film’s central themes of taking what life hands you, providing more of a metaphorical solution as opposed to simply being about two men who both want to be champions in the eyes of the media. Tae-shik and Sang-hwan want to be champions in life, and in order to do so they must overcome every hurdle that has been placed in their way. Here Crying Fist‘s contrasting storylines manage to generate a great deal of interest through killing two birds with one stone. On one side we have a man who was a champion and believes the only way to help his family after all these years is to go back to the thing he knows how to do best. On the other we have a young man who vows to repent his sins through boxing for his prison. In the end the sheer determination of both men proves that life’s a struggle no matter what you set out to do, and it’s reinforced through a continual series of blows that ultimately wears both central figures down.
What then becomes an interesting inclusion is seeing both men progress, with Ryu Seung-wan presenting us with a couple of options. Naturally the viewer will find him/herself siding with one of the characters. While watching the film I did try to keep my feelings neutral on the matter, but as the cards are dealt it becomes easy to develop a fondness for a specific player. It’s soon that Tae-shik begins to generate the most sympathy, not only through Choi Min-shik’s superb acting but just in the way that his life is portrayed and how his struggle is all the more determined. Perhaps my likeness for Tae-shik owes itself to his sincerity and often pathetic qualities. As a man who has fallen from grace you root for him to earn back his self respect and defy his limitations. Sang-hwan on the other hand is an off-the-rails kid. It’s difficult to believe in him after all the grief he’s caused, though by using prison as a means to drill some sense into him the director manages to turn his character around considerably. The final act proves to be an important turn for him as he strives to make his grandmother proud, but still he’s the slightly weaker of the protagonists, despite an equally great performance from the director’s younger brother.
“Even Rocky had a montage”, sings Trey Parker, during Gary’s classic 80’s homage training sequence in Team America; and yes, Crying Fist is not without the obligatory montage. The film carries with it a lengthy run time and the director can’t seem to avoid covering the same ground; through training sequences or street fights for example. There are also a few clichés to be found here and there, and the lack of inventiveness on display makes me wonder what Ryu Seung-wan was thinking. Perhaps in an attempt to make his film a commercial success he’s gone down a familiar path for several sequences, or it could well be that some of his influences simply shine through. It also becomes considerably predictable once it hits the point where Tae-shik announces that he doesn’t care if he wins or not. This doesn’t undermine the well executed and inevitable boxing match between Tae-shik and Sang-hwan but it most definitely fails to provide any real surprises. Speaking of which at least the fight sequences are suitably fierce and ultra-realistic. Come the main event, Choi Min-shik and Ryu Seung-bum literally just go for it and hit each other senseless. The blows really feel like they connect and the scenes play out with very little editing. As the rounds continue to the very last we witness them gradually becoming worn down, until they’re staggering around lethargically in a weakened, bloody state, while they throw feeble punches as the timer slowly ticks away. Talk about suffering for your art, but these two convince us of their character‘s determination and desperation. In the end it doesn’t really matter who wins or loses the match - it’s all about (to quote a board game) the game of life.
Enter One sure know how to come up with nice little packages. This limited edition consists of a sturdy, textured outer sleeve that houses two fold-out packs which contain a disc each, along with a production booklet called “Guide to the Round”. This booklet features Korean text only, but comes with some very nice glossy photos.
Crying Fist is presented in an anamorphic 2.35:1 aspect ratio. This would be one of the best looking Korean DVDs to date, if not for a couple of niggles. There is some Edge Enhancement present and shimmering throughout, otherwise it’s damn fine looking. Detail and colour is superb, along with very impressive black levels and shadow detail, with decent contrast value. The director has made a stylistic choice of using some harsh lighting, which is very evident during the beginning and this comes through without any bad signs.
Korean 5.1 Surround and DTS tracks are available for your listening pleasure. Checking out the DTS I can safely say that it rocks quite a bit. There’s far more dialogue in the film than there is action, and this is well taken care of, being very clear and managing to remain that way through some of the more heightened moments. The brilliant score is complimented nicely, being given a solid workout and as for the fights themselves - superb. Every punch that lands can be felt, which is truly absorbing and enhances the fight’s gruelling feel. A very solid effort all round.
Optional English subtitles can be accessed and these are almost completely free from grammatical error; one or two moments don’t do anything to drag the film down. The subs are well timed and well placed, coming in a bold, nicely sized white font.
Note: The following features have no English subtitles and the menus are all in Korean, which makes them very difficult to work out.
Most of the extras can be found on disc 2, with the first containing a director’s commentary on the film. Starting off the second disc is an interview with a man in glasses, who isn’t Ryu Seung-wan (at least I don’t think so anyway as Seung-wan is quite a young and thin looking chap) (9.12). He talks a little about Die Bad, judging from some clips that are shown and then sticks to his latest film. He might be talking about parallels or something. Next up is a behind the scenes look at the making of the film (16.30), which features a few interviews. Following on from this are some location reports and fight choreography. 9-minutes of interviews come next and these look at some of the more physical aspects of production. The action sequences are looked at next (10.48) and these feature interviews with a guy I do know - Jeong Do-hong. He’s known for smaller roles in films like No Blood, No Tears, Resurrection of the Little Match Girl and Natural City. He’s also used a lot as an action choreographer. I’m pretty sure that composer, Bok Sung-ah is interviewed for the next 10-minutes as there are a lot of clips featured that have music playing in them, and they all look emotional. We also see some instruments. There’s also a look at recording some of the songs, so maybe he’s not Bok Sung-ah. He might also be Bang Jun-seok. If it’s neither then you have my apologies. Some more interviews follow with the cast, which include discussion on physical training, also with some crew input. There’s also 14-minutes of interviews and footage, which might be about researching the film and preparing. An interesting multi-angle feature can be accessed, which offers six camera positions, each with a choice of three angles. These are set up for the final boxing match. Thirteen deleted scenes are next, that feature optional commentaries. The disc finishes up with “Ryoo Bros. in Cannes” which is self explanatory, and promotional material which includes two trailers and two music videos (“Pokarekare ana” and “Just Do It”).
Crying Fist is an emotionally rewarding drama, from one of South Korea’s most interesting action/drama directors. Ryu Seung-wan has found a nice little niche with his films and he continues to impress each time out. Strong performances and great action ensures that there's a lot to like about this very polished production.