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Punch ("Wandeuki")

Quebec Premiere
  • South Korea
  • 2011
  • 110 mins
  • DCP
  • Korean
  • English (subtitles)
Official Selection, Berlin International Film Festival 2012
Official Selection, Udine Far East Film Festival 2012
Official Selection, Shanghai International Film Festival 2012

“This is the kind of film that reminds you why Korean cinema is so well-regarded” — MODERN KOREAN CINEMA

In a poor area of Seoul, Wan-deuk lives in a run-down house with his hunchbacked father and simple-minded uncle, two unemployed tap dancers reduced to performing in public markets. The withdrawn 17-year-old, who grew up without ever knowing his mother, chafes against his family’s social and financial situation, and vents his frustration by punishing anyone who attempts to judge or humiliate his family. At school, Wan-deuk is last in his class, leaving him vulnerable to the harsh remarks of his teacher, the caustic Dong-joo, whose straight talk in class would raise many a politically correct eyebrow. Dong-joo never lets Wan-deuk be for a second, to the despair of the young man, who is forced to endure his teacher’s jibes the whole way home because they are neighbours. But behind his bluntness, Dong-joo hides a heart of gold and it leads him to take the young man under his wing to get him out of his shell. With all the subtlety he’s known for, he enters the boy’s life like a truck in a pottery museum. In quick succession, he finds Wan-deuk’s mother (a Filipino immigrant), steers him into kickboxing to release his aggression and begins the process of teaching him to love himself. Against all expectations, the two men develop a shaky bond.

If you’re in need of restoring your faith in humanity in two hours of cinema capable of eliciting as many gales of laughter as it does tears shed for the right reasons, PUNCH is your prescription. This feel-good movie celebrates the decency of a community united in the face of others’ judgements — about poverty, ethnicity, solitude and handicaps of all kinds — and does it with so much verve and humanity it could instil empathy in the worst shark on Wall Street. Adapted from a popular novel, the rhythmic screenplay by Kim Dong-woo (AN EYE FOR AN EYE) is full of absolutely delectable dialogue (you’ll laugh till you cry at the earthy verbal jousting between the protagonists and a hysterically vulgar neighbour) and a cluster of sympathetic subplots that don’t weigh the story down in the slightest. At the heart of a formidable cast portraying a gallery of unforgettable characters, Yoo Ah-in (ANTIQUE) holds his own admirably before the immense Kim Yun-seok (the pimp in THE CHASER), who delivers a remarkable motormouth performance that elicits hilarity with the twitch of an eyebrow. In this socially turbulent time, PUNCH is the perfect antidote to all-pervasive cynicism.

— Nicolas Archambault