Saturday, March 21, 2009

73) Crying Fist (2005)

73) Crying Fist (2005) Dir: Ryoo Seung-wan Not Yet Released Date Seen: March 20th, 2009 Rating: 3.25/5

Action films are what writer/director Ryoo Seung-wan does best, making Crying Fist (2005) a weird but not unexpected change-up in his budding oeuvre. Not unlike The Wrestler (2008), Darren Aronofsky’s soppy love letter to the spandex-clad pro-wrestlers of the ‘80s, Crying Fist is a melodrama about two men who use boxing to get their shit together. The story’s build-up therefore does not revolve around their preparation for their big confrontation but rather the road that leads them there, making the film’s final fight the goal rather than the means to an end. That kind of sportsmanship and reserve is touching and makes the film a better macho tearjerker than most but its definitely not what Ryoo does best. 

Ryoo made Crying Fist just after Arahan (2004), an action comedy that elicited the same amount of tension from a kung fu pastiche that revolved around a young man quest to fulfill his destiny for the sake of saving a something or other. Crying Fist should logically be the better of the two films as it proves that Ryoo can do more than orchestrate colorful genre pictures. When it comes to emotions, he’s smart enough to know to rely on bodies under stress to convey pathos instead of dialogue. In Crying Fist, he takes that philosophy and runs with it farther than any of his films (that I’ve seen).

In both Arahan and Crying Fist, Ryoo’s protagonists have to maim themselves to get ahead (ie: any knowledge gained takes a beating or two to sink in). In Crying Fist, Ryoo takes that theory of emotional torture as character-builder one step further and allows the actors’ body language to completely carry the film. There are perfunctory moments when Ryoo has the characters literally mutilate themselves to get forward, like when young Yoo Seung-hwan (Ryu Seung-beom) cuts himself in the prison shower to ward off a bully—no soap dropping here—but they’re strictly bush league compared to the films’ truly revelatory moments. Whether it’s cross-cutting between Gang Tae-shik (Choi Min-sik)’s hangdog expression and his doctor as he’s given a bum prognosis or a paradoxically understated tracking shot of Seung-beom’s face as the red and blue lights of a squad car are projected onto it, these moments make the film’s emotional payload stick.

Where the film collapses is in its warm and fuzzy final fight. By that point, both Yoo and Gang have already made the progress they needed to, leaving nothing riding on the fight’s outcome. Unlike earlier fight scenes, which are filmed in hyper-active DV, this one is filmed with none of the overblown but necessary stylistic tricks needed to accentuate any distinct features of the two fighters. It’s as if Ryoo is repudiating the viewer for expecting a climactic finish. He even goes so far as to use his one flag-waving, hey-this-is-what-the-movie-is-really-about moment to tell the viewer, through two sports announcers that quickly disappear immediately afterwards, that his protagonists’ are in it for the right reasons, namely everything but winning. Nice sentiment but if Ron Howard could make a prize fight look great without being really climactic, there’s no reason why Ryoo couldn’t.

Note: Oh Dal-su may still be playing the same guy he plays in pretty much every movie—the sleezy loan shark type guy—but he does it so well. More loan shark, pls.

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