March 11, 2013

Punch (Han Lee, 2011)

Punch, a Korean drama, will more likely be remembered for the way it adds to the Korean conversation on immigration than for its other story elements.

Teenager Wan-deuk consistently gets into fights at school while getting lousy grades. Wan-deuk’s mom abandoned them when he was a little boy and he was raised by his father, a small-time itinerant street performer, who has some difficulty providing for his family. Dong-joo (Yun-seok Kim), a teacher at Wan-deuk’s school sees some potential in him and takes him under his wing, introducing him to kickboxing.

Yun-seok Kim’s acting is phenomenal and one of the high points of the film, conveying his character’s nobility through his many human faults. Here, all the actors are up to the challenge of the story, bringing a sense of bittersweet joy, the weight of life, to their performances.

Han Lee’s direction is adequate, never straying too far from the norm and never distracts from the convention of the genre.

But what sets the film apart from similar fare is its discourse on Korean immigration. When Wan-deuk reunites with his mother, he discovers she’s a foreigner, working at jobs Koreans smirk at. We feel that for his mother to be a foreigner is a stronger stigma than his father’s indigence. The strength of the narrative is Wan-deuk’s journey to acceptance: of himself and his personality and his physical limitations; of his present situation and his mixed heritage, their stigma and societal limitations.

Punch is a powerful coming-of-age drama executed well, with great acting and thought-provoking subject matter.

INFO: Punch (IMDB)