CRYING FIST is the latest movie from Seung-wan Ryoo, the South Korean movie director who brought us ARAHAN. ARAHAN is a really great post-modern martial arts film - mixing hyper-real action sequences with MTV dialogue and a healthy dose of slapstick.
By contrast, CRYING FIST is a dead serious, straight-up drama telling the story of two men who are in hopeless situations. One is a 43 year old ex-amateur boxer. He is in debt and a loveless marriage, and when his wife kicks him out he is reduced to fighting people in the street for cash. The second man is a young punk who learns to box in prison. He has a lot of aggression, little technical skill, and something to prove to his family. Both lead actors play against type in this film. The ageing boxer is none other than conflicted killer, Mr. OLDBOY, a.ka. actor Choi Min-Sik, who also appears as the nasty Mr. Beak in LADY VENGEANCE. The young punk is played by Seung-Beom Ryoo, the gormless hero from Arahan and the director's kid brother.
The first 90 minutes of the movie show these two men being degraded and defeated. It is painful to watch but compelling all the same - like watching a car crash in slow motion. There is no sentimentality, no deeper message, no sweeping orchestral score as in Ron Howard's CINDERELLA MAN.
In the final half hour, the two men meet in a boxing tournament. The fights are well choreographed but are shot with none of the balletic artistry of RAGING BULL. The director is very clear in communicating his belief that boxing is a nasty, ugly, painful thing to submit yourself to. To my mind, this is not a film arguing that redemption comes through boxing. Rather, the tragedy of these men is that they have so little hope, that boxing seems to them a redemption. The lack of a rip-roaring ROCKY-style final match has been criticised. But I think that it is a strength of the film that there is no good-guy facing off against a bad-guy. We have seen both of these guys treated like shit and want to see them both win. That is what makes the final scenes so engaging.
Overall, this is a movie that I admired more than enjoyed. It was a brave move for the director to steer away from cartoon kung-fu to straight-up boxing drama. It was an unusual move to have us sympathise with both of the protagonists. I found the relentless misery of the first 90 minutes a bit hard to take - but without them I would not have felt the full impact of the final 30 minutes. So I would recommend this movie, but be warned. It is a hard slog.
CRYING FIST was shown at Cannes in May where it won the Critics Prize for Best Film. It is currently on release in Hong Kong and the UK. There is no scheduled release date for Continental Europe or the US.