CRYING FIST (2005)
Unique and superbly performed, a split narrative boxing tale with emotional punch as two desperate down-and-outs fight for redemption
The boxing ring proves a popular arena for cinema. A place to demonstrate bravery, strength and heart, all suitable character traits for a film’s protagonist.
Such popularity has sparked its own boxing genre devices – often the plucky underdog versus the baddie incumbent champion. When we watch a boxing fight in a film, we have usually established a side we can cheer on with gusto. Not so here.
What Crying Fist does is combine two entirely separate narrative strands of fighters, bringing them together only during a show-stopping, breath-taking final battle.
By this time, we are equally invested in their respective fortunes, unsure who to cheer as both have reasons to win – one a young buck desperate to impress their dying grandmother, the other an old boxer fighting for a final chance to impress his estranged young son. That someone has to win is an unbearable reality, but is what makes Crying Fist such an emotionally lavish film.
Our young fighter here is Sang-hwan (Ryoo Seung-bum), a local thug and petty thief who lands himself in jail after a botched robbery. After starting a fight in the cafeteria, he is picked to try his hand in the prison boxing team, finding a supportive coach (Byun Hee-bong) who tries to channel Sang-hwan's endless fury into a positive outcome.
The old dog is Tae-shik (the perfectly cast Choi Min-sik – Oldboy, I Saw the Devil), a former Asian Games silver medalist in boxing, now jobless and besieged by creditors. To make ends meet Tae-shik becomes a human punching bag by letting passers-by box him into a pulp for 10,000 Won a time.
A shot at an amateur title gives both Sang-hwan and Tae-shik the goal to focus their festering umbrage into a positive outcome, bringing these two separate journeys together by the end.
It is no spoiler to know the inevitability of a final showdown between the two characters, who are kept entirely separate beforehand, flipping the boxing narrative arch of many other films.
The final fight is a greater spectacle because of this, but also because the action is so raw and realistic. There is none of the cartoonish exchange of punching, or a series of rapid close shots to disguise the fake nature of the fight. We are instead treated to a genuine-looking bout.
Both Ryoo Seung-bum and Choi Min-sik are superb as the separate stars of the film, combining raw anger and laser focus in their roles. Alongside them is a fantasy team of supporting actors, including Byun Hee-bong (Memories of Murder, The Host), Na Moon-hee (The Quiet Family), Gi Ju-bong (Sorum, The Spy Gone North), and Im Won-hee (Silmido).
The two streams of stories rattle forwards as we continue to descend with Sang-hwan and Tae-shik's fortunes before the ring provides redemption for them both in that startling and emotional concluding fight.