Written and directed by Seung-wan Ryoo (Arahan, No Blood No Tears) and starring Seung-beom Ryu (Arahan, No Blood No Tears) and Min-sik Choi (Oldboy, The Quiet Family, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, I Saw The Devil) Crying Fist [Jumeogi unda] was Ryoo’s fourth film that utilised the talent of his brother and was a break in direction for both him and his brother. Ryu was so ‘beefed-up’ for his role in the film that he is almost unrecognisable.
The ‘Reader’s Digest‘ version of the plot is as follows:
Tae-shik Kang (Min-sik Choi) won the Olympic Silver Medal for Boxing when he was younger. Kang has fallen on hard times. His wife has left him, he is broke, jobless and in serious debt. He has turned himself into a human ‘punching bag’ and bills himself as a stress reliever.
Sang-Hwan Yu (Seung-beom Ryu) is a teenage juvenile delinquent. He has an anger management problem and has no self discipline. His frequent brushes with the police end with his being put in prison. Once inside, his natural proclivity for fighting works for him as he joins the boxing team. He learns that boxing may just change his life.
An amateur boxing title is up for grabs. The winner not only receives a title but he also wins a nice sum of cash. Both men decide to go for the title. Tae-shik Kang goes for the title in a last ditch attempt to clear his debts and turn his life around. Sang-Hwan Yu goes for the title to give himself a new start in life, he is desperate to ‘go straight’ and not return to prison.
The film follows the journeys of both men. We see the depth of Kang’s misery and hopelessness. In his eyes he is a loser, someone who was once proud and respected. Watching him set up his area in town squares and main streets is heartbreaking.
Kang is constantly reminded of how much he has lost and how much he owes. The amateur title seems almost too good to be true. He realises that this could be a second chance and he starts training for it.
Yu is an angry young man. Stubborn and wild he looks to have no real future, apart from prison. When he warily starts boxing in prison, he soon realises that he is good at it. Once he is out of prison, he trains for his chance at the title. If he wins, he will have respectability, money, and a purpose in life.
The film shows us both men’s story by cutting back and forth between the two. The director manages to get us on both men’s side. We feel their despair, anger, helplessness, frustration and finally hope. While rooting for each man to succeed, we are uncomfortable in the knowledge that only one of them can win.
It can be a little frustrating to watch. Ryoo does such a good job in connecting us with the two ultimately opposing characters that we remain torn over which one to root for. The characters are so well written and performed that we constantly shift our allegiance and this shifting of sympathy gets harder as the film progresses.
Both men endure gruelling punishment in the ring. Each one continues to win until,ultimately, they must face each other. The fights in this film are choreographed brilliantly. Each fight actually appears so realistic we wince and start to react to the fight sequences as if they were real.
I would highly recommend this film to anyone. If you have not watched Asian cinema before, this would be an excellent introduction. Min-sik Choi and Seung-beom Ryu are craftsmen of the highest order. I have never seen either actor in a film where they failed to deliver. Seung-beom Ryoo goes from strength to strength as a director and this film is an excellent example of his work.
This film is no Rocky it is too realistic and gritty. It also grabs you and reels you in, by the end of the film you will be practically exhausted from all the “side changing” you will go through. Definitely a must see and one that you’ll need two bags of popcorn for. Crying Fist is a cult favourite and it deserves to be.