A scene from “Punch Lady” starring Do Ji-won
By Lee Hyo-won
Movies are loaded with nonsensicality, and that’s sometimes the fun part. Think of those unbelievably undying characters like “Die Hard’s” Bruce Willis or Uma Thurman in “Kill Bill.”
Nevertheless, things make sense -- in a comically surreal way -- within the internal logic of the film. “Punch Lady” is a tale of modern heroism where a battered housewife- turned-kickboxing queen fights her abusive husband in the ring. Pitifully reminiscent of J-Lo’s “Enough,” it stops short of being ridiculous, period, because it lacks its own set of cardinal rules.
The movie thoroughly disappoints as it serves third-rate comedy and contrived drama . without aplatter. Ha-eun’s husband Ju-chang is a mixed martial arts champion who does not hesitate to practice Guillotine chokes or low kicks outside the ring. Ha-eun decides she cannot take it any longer and, in a spur of passion, publicly challenges Ju-chang to a duel in the ring.
This is a woman who has grown immune to Ju-chang’s senseless beatings -- but an old flame reappears and gives her a wake up call. The ex-boyfriend is still in love with her after 13 years, and tries to win her back only to get killed in the ring by her awful husband.
This is a classic case of a terribly incorporated deus ex machina, or an improbable device used to resolve a conflict in a story: The ex solves all of Ha-eun’s worries (she’s moved into a friend’s house with her daughter by now) by leaving her a diamond ring and 500 million won in his will. So Ha-eun becomes determined to beat up her husband, but the movie completely forgets about the boyfriend for the rest of the movie, because it’s pushed on by a string of other contrived plot elements.
Now, not only must Ha-eun master the art of fighting in three months, she needs to deal with her troubled 15-year-old daughter who, on top of cutting class and drinking, chews pieces of glass to scare people off. She must also tend to her ailing mother and unresolved inner conflict involving her father.
Ha-eun becomes the talk of the town, with wives and husbands divided on the matter, anti-violence feminist groups opposing the match and greedy moguls trying to make some extra cash from the sensation. The film touches upon some deeply imbedded sexism that exists in Korean society as well as the twisted workings of the media, but it’s regretful that it borders on superficiality.
The most ridiculous part of the movie is Ha-eun’s work out. She gets her training from Su-hyeon, a geeky math teacher who opens a gym to settle his debts. So you expect Su-hyeon to whip up miraculous coaching using his math tools. He does, at one point, nalyze Ju-chang’s moves and advises Ha-eun to punch him from a certain angle and speed.
But theory aside, in terms of practice, Su-hyeon realizes he cannot rely on Bruce Lee videos. He enrolls in a martial arts class. The movie tries to force laughs with some very passe comedy, like the agony of being beaten up and Ha-eun’s clown-like gym clothes. To top off this absurd tale, Suhyon is hospitalized, leaving Haeun on her own to pump her muscles (though she remains rail-thin like a ballerina).
She gets a stylish hair-do and chic gym clothes and all of a sudden she’s Rocky jogging around with a tire tied to her waist.
The only heartfelt scene in the entire two-hour flick is when Ha-eun screams with utter rage in the ring as she finally confronts her husband. Yes, she is angry, and rightfully so. “Punch” is simply too heavy and long to watch even lightheartedly. Gong Hyo-jin, screenplay writer for the hit comedy “My Wife is a Gangster,” certainly makes a point that domestic violence is the cancer of society in his directorial debut.
But his awkward script fails to do justice to the wonderful performances by veteran actors Do Ji-won (Ha-eun) and Sohn Hyun-ju (Su-hyeon).