Conventional take on family valuesIn a review of “Crying Fist” for a local film magazine, one critic raised the issue of the film’s social meaning compared to Clint Eastwood’s “Million Dollar Baby,” which was released here a week before the Korean film opened.
While both films tell the story of boxers, the writer noted how the two films differ in their views of traditional family values in modern society.
“Crying Fist,” which deals with men who are trying to compensate for their regretful past by winning an amateur boxing tournament, illustrates the struggles of a troubled family desperately trying to restore its lost values. In the American film, Eastwood sets up an alternative family model of a father-daughter relationship, sort of.
It is ironic that the director of the Korean film, Ryu Seung-hwan, who had a reputation for being a film industry outsider, chose to take a conventional view of a changing society while Eastwood, with his long acting career based in mainstream cinema, had a more progressive plot.
As the writer admits, Ryu’s position might be a genuine reflection of social reality, in which the myth about “flesh and blood” still pervades the lives of many people. But maybe Ryu simply decided it’s time to alter his usual style, as many underground filmmakers do when they join major distributors.
Indeed, Ryu, who is known for his rough and edgy taste, evident in films like “Die Bad” or “No Blood, No Tears,” moves into the genre of a well-made human melodrama seasoned with action scenes.
His new film, which is partly based on a true story, features two men. Tae-sik (Choi Min-sik), a former boxing champion, has ended up in a city square working at a job that pays him 10,000 won for each match in which he is hit by someone. Sang-hwan (Ryu Seung-beom), a son of a police investigator, was put in a reformatory after he robbed and killed a man for money, which he planned to use to pay the victims of a group fight. To compensate his family, he enters the tournament against Tae-sik, who participates to prove to his small son that his father is not a loser.
The film has a conventional plot. But as suggested by the title, Ryu, whose previous films seem to have been inspired by 1960s kung fu flicks and Hong Kong action films, is not ashamed to admit his frenetic taste. And that shows.
Despite the refined acting, there are a few clunky lines that fail to work, such as when Tae-sik, after the final round, hugs his son in the ring, saying “Kid, let’s go to a public bathhouse. Your dad is not going to die.” The scene is undeniably Korean, but the male fantasy about the bond between a father and son seems a bit redundant here, if not out of place.
For those who are used to Ryu’s militant attitude in filmmaking?― he shot his first feature “Die Bad” for 60 million won ($60,000) ― “Crying Fist,” which was recently invited to be shown at Cannes, might fall flat in innovation. But the world now knows that Ryu is a talented filmmaker, and that’s an important credit in an industry where action films often seem dull and flat.
But above all, criticism of the film vanishes in front of Ryu Seung-beom, the director’s brother, who is one Korean actor who still looks amazingly cool in dreadlocks and whose acting somehow feels “real.”
Action/ Drama / Korean with English subtitles at JoongAng Cinema at 6:20 p.m.
134 min, Now playing
by Park Soo-mee