Crying Fist (2005): Down But Not Out

Crying Fist

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 FamilySympathy 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.

No Blood No Tears: Teaching Guy Ritchie a Thing or Two.

No Blood No Tears (Pido nunmuldo eobshi) is co-written and directed by Seung-wan Ryoo. The same director who brought us the brilliant films Arahan and Crying Fist. Ryoo has directed ten films so far and judging from his work on the three films I’ve mentioned, I am desperate to see more of his films.

The plot of No Blood No Tears revolves around two female characters.  Su-ji played by Do-yeon Jeon who is a “wanna be” popstar whose boyfriend is a homicidal monster and Kyeong-seon played by Hye-yeong Lee  is the reluctant, “hard as nails” female gangster whose dead husband’s gambling debts have forced her to take on ‘real’ work as a cab driver. Kyeong-seon is also trying to go straight, when she was younger she was a safe-cracker and has no wish to go back to prison. The two females literally bump into each other at the beginning of the film with Su-ji driving straight into the side of Kyeong-seon’s cab.  The two women have nothing in common and due to the strained circumstances of their meeting, don’t look like they will bond at all. But fate is a funny thing and it turns out that they both need money. Lots of money.

Su-ji needs the cash to get away from her cruel boyfriend and to get the plastic surgery she needs to pursue her career. Kyeong-seon needs the money to pay off the loan shark her dead husband owes money to. Since neither woman can achieve what they need alone, Su-ji suggests they team up to steal what they need from her boyfriends club.

Su-ji’s ‘terminator’ style boyfriend’s club  specializes in illegal dog-fights. The club is making money hand over fist. The two girls work on a plan that will allow them to enter the club unnoticed, switch the duffle bag that is used to transport the nights takings to the mob with a bag filled with newspaper. The plan looks like a ‘shoe-in’ except for one  problem the two girls are not the only folks who have decided to help themselves to some of the clubs money. Two other groups  have also picked the same night as Su-ji and Kyeong-seon.

This film is a very above average heist film. The pacing is taut and the action is ferocious. The film also has it’s fair share of funny moments as well.  The director has used  his “regular”- Seung-beom Ryu – Arahan and Crying Fist, again for his first class comic acting that we’ve seen in Arahan. Goo Shin plays KGB, the scary, cruel, and seemingly indestructible boyfriend of Ju-ji.

The divergent groups clash, intertwine and double cross each other. It can get a little confusing if you haven’t been paying attention. During the middle of the film it becomes a case of ‘Bag, Bag, who’s got the Bag?’ With the amount of times that the cash filled duffle bag changes hands, you can get lost in the shuffle. There is a lot of brilliant wire work, and the fights scenes have been choreographed brilliantly. The cinematography is spot-on, with a sharp ‘drabness’ that shows what kind of world these people inhabit.

I enjoyed this film very much, so much so, that after I’d finished watching it I immediately started looking to see if there had been a sequel. Everyone in the film gave an outstanding performance. If you want to see what films like Snatch and Lock, Stock and Smoking Barrel  could have been, watch this film. Don’t get me wrong, I adore LSSB…a lot. But After watching this film I realized it could have been even better.