After war movies, for which I have very limited tolerance, my next least favourite film genre is boxing movies. With war films which I usually have to force myself to watch (and goodness knows I have given up in the middle of many of them), the basic concept is to take a bunch of loveable -- or not so loveable -- guys and kill them off one by one. With boxing films, there is usually an underdog for whom we are meant to root and one then has the spectacle of watching two men beat the living hell out of each other. Not my idea of fun! However, since there are exceptions to every rule, I have occasionally kind of admired some war flicks; rather less frequently I can just about stomach some boxing films.
The Korean film under discussion from the eclectic director Seung-wan Ryoo has its quota of bloody bashing, but it remains watchable for being an unusual riff on the common theme. In effect there are two separate storylines which play out side by side but which only come together in the final scenes. The first protagonist is a washed up boxer in his forties played by Min-sik Choi, the infamous 'Oldboy', whose glory days were winning a silver medal at the Asian Games back in the '90s and who has sunk into penury, debt, and drunkeness, estranging his wife and young son. He earns a crust by busking in a public square as a human punching- bag, entreating the passers-by to pay for a minute (two minutes for women) of thumping him, as an outlet for their frustration, aggression, or despair. The second protagonist is a young punk, played by the director's brother Seung-beom Ryoo, whom I have only seen previously in bit parts. He lands up in gaol after a violent robbery, where the prison boxing coach notes his killer fists in impromptu punch-ups and encourages him to join the team as one means of controlling his violent temper.
With a local amateur competition upcoming, both men train for the title in their weight category, hoping to find a kind of redemption in the discipline and a kind of glory in the outcome. As expected our two anti-heroes end up matched against each other in the final bout, which obviously only one of them can win, and we segue into the usual violent fisticuffs, but with each of the two becoming punchier and bloodier as the fight progresses. I will not include the spoiler of which of them actrually wins, although both achieve a kind of catharsis and grace by the film's end. I will however say that had I been one of the judges awarding the victory on points, my vote would have been with the loser.
This is an involving and well-made film which I can recommend to your attention -- even if it is about boxing!!!