After watching the Thai film “Chocolate” last week, I got inspired to finally get around to this one that had been languishing unwatched in my pile of DVD’s from the last couple of months…… Neko-chan figured it was just the time for a little “Female Empowerment”…. asian style.
So… is director Kang Hyo-jin’s new film up to the level of her previous hit “My Wife is Gangster”, a film Neko absolutely loved? This one also is a story about a strong central female character, but where “My Wife is Gangster” has that main character fully in charge of her life and more than a match for all comers, this one tackles the thornier subject of spousal abuse and domestic violence.
Offering up the audience a story of an horribly abused wife who risks it all to gain her only chance for revenge by facing her violent husband in the boxing ring before an audience of thousands of fight fans in a winner takes all fight to the finish, “Punch Lady” is a hard film to categorize. It starts out as a Drama…. then goes soft and comedic, punctuated by moments of fear and melodrama before reaching it’s conclusion. If you are confused by now… you aren’t alone. Your Favorite Catgirl Princess had her moments trying to get a grip on this one too.
By now you really want to know what it’s all about, so let’s “Read On” shall we?
Well, the film gets off to a start with a scene in which 36 year old housewife Ha Eun gets beaten terribly by her husband Ju Chang in a manner that makes you want to run away and hide. It made me cringe to see it, and to see the way poor Ha Eun has no choice but to take that vicious beating from such a powerful and skilled bully.
Her teenage daughter tries to stop this fight, which is just the latest brutal scene of this 13 year marriage, and gets smashed in the face with an ashtray. Ha Eun snaps and knocks him unconscious with a frying pan to save her from worse treatment at the hands of her father.
She gets arrested by the police for her actions, and once she gets released, she leaves him, fleeing to the questionable safety of a friend’s tiny rundown apartment. Trying to pull together her shattered life, she meets her old fiance from before her marriage to Ju Chang. He still has feeling for her after all these years and also turns out to be a fighter. Seeing how badly she’s been treated he tells her he plans to fight her husband and here the film looks like it’s setting up a romantic angle, but no!!
Instead, Ju Chang cheats and kills him in the ring before her very eyes. Ha Eun goes crazy then and publicly challenges him on camera to a match in three months time, causing a media sensation. She claims to be fighter… that she’s ready for the challenge, but these claims are all desperate lies. She finds that no gyms will accept her for the necessary training she needs even to have a glimmer of hope of surviving the match. Eventually she finds a rundown and almost deserted gym run by Soo Hyun, who reluctantly agrees to train her for the fight, despite the fact that he is merely posing as a coach and is actually nothing more than her daughter’s maths teacher by day.
The movie continues moving from grim depressing drama to tender romantic comedy with some tense moments of drama, as Ju Chang first tries to intimidate her into meekly submitting to his will and eventually even trying to kill her before she can embarrass him further with her futile challenge. At this point the film seems a bit confusing, changing gears abruptly at times, but overall the idea works…. Much happens that helps to define the ending, including some rather shocking revelations about her father and the memories she thought she had regarding the circumstances of his death.
It has to be said, that as a Martial Art film, “Punch Lady” doesn’t truly measure up. The fight between this frail delicate woman and her brutal thug of a husband is so obviously mismatched that it does require a bit of “suspension of disbelief” to work. Does this mean it’s a bad film? Not in the least. The characters are likable, compelling, and sympathetic and you’ll find yourself wanting them to win, no matter the ridiculous odds against it. The fight scenes only really happen at the beginning of the film and the very end, but much of the film doesn’t depend upon constant flashy martial art sequences. This is a character driven piece, and it’s there that it does it’s best.
Naturally, this one is primarily a story about the issues of domestic violence and the chauvinistic attitudes that women in Korea today have to deal with in their society as a daily reality, but it also manages to entertain on a purely simple level as well. After the first sequence slapped me in the face with it’s cruelty, I didn’t think I’d end up liking this one much, but by the end I found myself very attached to the characters and hoping that Ha Eun could pull off a miracle.
So…… to wrap things up, Neko gives “Punch Lady” a well deserved 4 “Meows” out of 5 for being just that sort of quirky, hard to pin down film that I like. While it runs a wee bit long for it’s material at 121 minutes, it’s worth every one of them.
But don’t just take my word for it…here’s the Trailer to give you a taste for it yourself….