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Finding your own way to happinessAnother in our Korean film reviews. This week: 'Punch'
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승인 2011.12.09  14:35:30
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▲ CJ. Entertainment

If you are not a fan of the usual Hollywood blockbusters filled with immoderate plots and glamorous scenes, and prefer to look for a gentle drama, “Punch” (“Wan Deuk I,” Korean title, 2011) may be just your type of film.

Based on the novel of the same title, this movie offers a mix of humor and sorrow, with the addition of a small life lesson. At its core is the story of a group of ordinary people who learn from each other’s mistakes and discover the meaning and joy of life.

The movie begins in a church with a boy (Wan Deuk played by Yoo Ah In) who is desperately, almost humorlessly, praying for his teacher to vanish.

Wan Deuk is a high school student who lives with his father (Park Su Young), who is a little person, and mentally disabled uncle Min Gu (Kim Yeong Jae). His family lives in a tiny room on a rooftop, which symbolizes poverty. His father works as a clown performing at night clubs. At first, Wan Deuk comes across as indifferent, yet rough. He doesn’t care for school, studying or friends. Some audience members may expect him to be a troublemaker. Yet he isn’t.

And there is Dong Ju (Kim Yun Seok), Wan Deuk’s homeroom teacher who lives in a neighboring rooftop room across from Wan Deuk’s house. He is an atypical teacher who doesn’t seem to care about his students’ academic studies. He is also the owner of the small church seen at the opening of the film. One day, the police arrive at the classroom and arrest him in the middle of class for helping illegal immigrants.

However, regardless of the happenings, Dong Ju pays special attention to Wan Deuk, sparking a Tom and Jerry-type relationship. The teacher follows the student everywhere, day and night, and to teach Wan Deuk that there is nothing embarrassing about being poor, Dong Ju reveals Wan Deuk’s poverty to his classmates.

One day, Dong Ju tells Wan Deuk that his mother, who was previously believed to be dead, is still alive and that she is Filipino. He found out through the church he manages, which is being used as a safe house for illegal immigrant workers.

“Poverty, a disabled father, and a Filipino mother, it’s a perfect excuse to run away,” Do Wan Deuk complains and refuses to acknowledge his mother’s existence, not only because he was abandoned, but also because he is ashamed to have a Filipino mother. Later, however, affection from everyone slowly dissolves his resentment, and he eventually opens up to others.

Wan Deuk finds he has an interest in boxing. Despite his father’s objection, Dong Ju supports his decision. Wan Deuk realizes that Dong Ju is not his enemy, he's become his mentor.

Recurring problems existing in Korean society permeate the teacher’s words in a very subtle way: the collapse of public education and teachers’ authority, discrimination against the disabled, poverty, immigrant workers, multiculturalism, along with racism.

However non-Korean viewers, who are not familiar with these issues or Korean mannerisms, may have difficulty understanding the bitter, but witty sarcasm and humor spread throughout the entire film. In a sense, it may be a subtle eye-opener for both Korean and non-Korean viewers.

Despite the increasing number of inter-racial marriages in Korea, most of the hit box-office movies have avoided the issue. Also, not many foreign actors, especially those that are non-white, have played major roles in Korean films. Bringing a multicultural family on to the screen, the film portrays present Korean society. Accepting the phenomena is left up to the audiences.

Unlike most well-known Korean films, “Punch” also shows the less-developed side of Korea in urban areas, highlighting a gap between the rich and the poor in Korean society. Though the gritty story line is about ordinary people, the movie shows that everyone has his or her own struggles in life and that we all must strive to find solutions.

Lee Han leaves the film with an ambiguous ending allowing the audience to decide the fate of Wan Deuk. Because at the end, whether he succeeds as a professional boxer or not doesn’t really matter. Everyone found his or her own way to happiness.

“Punch” (2011)
Rated PG-12
Running time: 110 minutes
Writer: Kim Dong Woo Director: Lee Han

ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (
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