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Original Title:

South Korea 2011

Comedy, Drama

Lee Han

Yoo Ah-in
Kim Yoon-seok
Park Su-young
Jasmine B. Lee
Kim Yeong-jae
Park Hyo-joo
Kang Byeol

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Story: Wan-deuk (Yoo Ah-in) has bad grades at school and lives under impoverished conditions. His father (Park Su-young) was a cabaret clown but now has lost his job. Since his father is hunchbacked he has bad chances of getting work but he somehow makes a living and provides his son with the minimum of what he needs. But more annoyed than by poverty Wan-deuk is by his homeroom teacher Lee Dong-ju (Kim Yoon-seok), who is providing him with unsolicited advice every day since he lives right next to him. His relationship with the unconventional teacher becomes even more complicated when Dong-ju tracks down his mother (Jasmine B. Lee) who he has never met before. She is from the Philippines. Wan-deuk even prays for his teacher to die for making his live so difficult. Eventually, he learns to reduce his feelings of aggression through kickboxing and the relationship with his teacher, who fights for the rights of immigrants, slowly starts to relax.

Review: A good movie takes familiar ingredients, after all there isn't really that much new stuff left to tell, and mixes it in such a superb manner that something extraordinary is the end result. "Punch" is such a film. This comedy has so much charm that there is a constant smile on your face while sitting in front of the screen. You just can't get enough of the fantastically charismatic characters. How much of a difference well written and more than anything else well portrayed characters can make was maybe never as obvious as here. Because even though "Punch" touches upon some social shortcomings the story remains rather straightforward and almost solely works with the different individuals.

"Punch" has been very successful at the Korean box-office mainly thanks to word-of-mouth advertising. That isn't a surprise as everyone who has watched this comedy wants others to enjoy this well achieved feel-good movie as well. Of course it is also a drama but not one of those that unnecessarily wants to go for some tears. In fact it's strange that the movie as a whole even seems a bit too positive in mood. Especially the ending seems disappointing until you realize that you can't really criticize an unworthy ending but that you are simply sad about the fact that you can't spend more time with the people on screen. That's just how much you grow fond of the protagonists!

Despite the good achievements of all actors "Punch" without a doubt is Kim Yun-seok's ("The Chaser", "The Yellow Sea") vehicle. It is incredible how much charisma he radiates and this in his first comedy role. Whether deliberately or not when he is on screen every one else gets pushed into the background. There is probably just a handful of actors who can do this but Kim is undoubtfully one of them. Actually filmmakers should be knocking his door down. With his subtle expressions, monolugues and deadpan remarks he instantly has won over the viewer. He is the kind of person that as a teacher is feared by the class but at the same time loved, too. You have to put up with a lot from him but in return you can also make some bold remarks in front of him.

Yoo Ah-in ("Antique") plays the 17-year old boy who is driven crazy by his teacher but finds a father figure and friend in him at the same time. The love-hate relationship between him and his teacher constitutes the heart of the movie and is the groundwork for some really well implemented funny moments. A nice bonus is Kim Sang-ho ("Moby Dick") in a supporting role, who as the constantly cursing neighbor creates some laughs and once more shows how much heart has been put into this movie. Apart from that there are also two small romantic stories between Wan-deuk and a pupil as well as between the teacher and the aforementioned neighbor's daughter. The significant thing is that those stories are woven into the movie just along the way and therefore never feel as mundane as they might sound.

"Punch" is oftentimes wrongfully titled a sports film. It's not since the kickboxing becomes a part of the movie not until the second half and plays only a very minor role. More than that the movie marginally touches upon interculturalism, poverty and religion. The story based on the novel by Kim Ryeo-ryeong unfortunately oftentimes has something episodic about it and doesn't always exactly know where to head to next, but strangely that never really is that apparent since the chemistry between Wan-deuk and Dong-ju is so great and the comedy timing so outstanding that you simply have fun watching them. Maybe there were just several lucky coincidences involved, especially giving Kim Yun-seok the role of the teacher was a fantastic decision by director Lee Han ("Almost Love"), but "Punch" is just such a well done movie that even I was left with a smile on my face at the end.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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