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Overall Rating

Awesome: 0%
Worth A Look: 22.22%
Average: 0%
Pretty Bad66.67%
Total Crap: 11.11%

1 review, 3 user ratings

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Punch Lady
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by Jay Seaver

"Domestic violence + romantic comedy = Dumb, dumb idea."
2 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2008 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: I'm not one to say that there are certain subjects that are untouchable, or can't be made to fit into a certain genre, in part because I've seen too many counterexamples. Still, there are some where filmmakers would be well-advised to think long and hard about what they're doing, domestic violence being pretty high on the list. "Punch Lady" may get points for doing something more interesting than the standard melodrama, it quickly loses them for a constant stream of incredibly questionable decisions.

Ha-eun (Do Ji-won) is the woman being beaten as the film opens, and if that's not bad enough, husband Ju-chang (Park Sang-wuk) does this for a living: He's a mixed martial arts champion. This time, he doesn't just focus his rage on Ha-eun, but their daughter (Choi Seol-ri), which finally gives Ha-eun the impetus to clock him with some furniture and get out of there. She moves in with a friend, and is soon approached by her high-school boyfriend, now also an MMA hopeful, who invites her to watch his fight against her husband. This is disastrous, as Ju-chang beats him so badly that he dies in the hospital later on, leading to Ha-eun making a scene at Ju-chang's press conference that results in her challenging him to a fight three months down the line. No gym wants to take her on until she wanders into one run by Soo-hyeon (Son Hyeon-joo). In actuality, Soo-hyeon is her daughter's math teacher, and was intending to turn the gym into a day-care center until Ha-eun showed up offering a not-insubstantial amount of money. Of course, Soo-hyeon knows nothing about martial arts.

Many movies have some shaky elements, but it's hard to remember any as thoroughly and willfully stupid as Punch Lady. Consider the premise: Ju-chang kills Ha-eun's old/new boyfriend in the ring, and he wasn't giving up nearly as much size, strength, and skill as Ha-eun would be. The idea that this fight could be anything but a slaughter is, thus, patently absurd. Heck, the very idea that the MMA governing body would touch it with a ten-foot pole is ridiculous, as there are basically two potential outcomes: They either televise a man pummeling (and likely killing) his wife, which can't possibly be good publicity, or by some miracle their champion is beaten by a petite fifty-kilo woman. Both of these are outcomes any reasonably competent business man can foresee and want no part of, but this bit of logic is passed right by.

That sort of thing could be tolerated, somewhat, if the tone worked. Instead, though, filmmaker Kang Hyo-jin spends the middle of the movie in the neighborhood of romantic comedy, having Soo-hyeon fall in love with Ha-eun and take martial arts classes (from Ju-chang's gym, no less!) so that he can be one lesson ahead of her as a teacher. Two comic-relief fellow students join the gym, and Ha-eun's anile mother shows up. It just doesn't add up - on the one hand, the first half of the film established something violent and frightening, but the rest ignores it, and Kang doesn't have what it takes to connect them. The bulk of the film is just goofy, doing everything it can to not have Ha-eun's near-certain doom add heft to the proceedings. Even when bad things happen, it's just plot advancement; it doesn't feel connected to the desperation of the opening.

In a way, the opening scenes wind up setting the audience up for major disappointment, as there is something harsh and ugly there. The resigned, matter-of-fact way Do narrates the opening montage of Ju-chang beating on Ha-eun says more about the monstrous banality of domestic violence than the rest of the film's two hours. The opening story arc, about Ha-eun escaping, briefly thinking she's found happiness only to have Ju-chang take it away is effective, even if it does wind up being just set-up for something much less.

Because of that, Choi Seol-ri is the only member of the cast who manages to escape without much embarrassment. Her character (the daughter) spends the movie angry at both parents, not even lightening up in the often-goofy middle section. Choi's good work is often the best reminder that this sort of thing takes a toll on everyone beyond the obvious. Do Ji-won isn't bad, herself, but more than any of the other actors, she has to move between the movie's two poles, and as a result we occasionally wind up laughing at things like her flinching whenever a man's hands get near her which shouldn't be funny at all. Park Sang-wuk tears into his villain role with gusto - it's not a subtle or even necessarily good performance, but it certainly communicates this guy's worthlessness as a human being. Son Heyon-joo actually winds up doing surprisingly well as Soo-hyeon, managing to make the character sympathetic even as his actions are ridiculous.

In some ways, "Punch Lady" reminds me of "200 Pounds Beauty", another Korean film which I saw at last year's Fantasia: Both movies try to make crowd-pleasing entertainment out of difficult (if not completely wrong-headed) premises. "Punch Lady" doesn't have a star-making performance at the center to make up for it, though, and winds up just leaving one feeling uncomfortable.

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originally posted: 08/04/08 07:17:30
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2008 Fantasia Film Festiva For more in the 2008 Fantasia Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

1/17/13 martin fennell fantasy, ridiculus premise, very well done, lead excellent, best scene, scream in ring 4 stars
10/25/12 Nekrobomb Jones Original, you have to give it that. Impossible too. 4 stars
8/06/08 Eloise Carlson Pretty awful, don't waste your time 1 stars
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Directed by
  Kang Hyo-jin

Written by
  Kang Hyo-jin

  Doh Ji-won
  Son Hyun-ju
  Park Sang-wook

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